Plans for a major-league sports arena, performing arts center and other structures on a greenbelt near the site of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library are raising fears in Ventura County, despite assurances that the proposals are no longer being pursued.
Blakeley Swartz, the Los Angeles development firm that is donating 100 acres for the Reagan library, included the structures in plans informally submitted to the county last spring. County planning officials responded, also informally, by characterizing the plans as contrary to land-use policies in the area.
When the Reagan library became a consideration last summer, Blakeley Swartz added it to the original development plan.
More Intrusive Building?
The proposal never emerged publicly, however, and in recent weeks, as word about the original plan spread quietly, it raised concerns that the library would encourage other development in the greenbelt separating Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Moorpark.
In an interview last Friday, Donald E. Swartz, a Blakeley Swartz partner, said the proposal for additional structures is not being pursued because the company is concentrating on the library. But he left open the possibility that it could surface again.
"If the community wants them, fine, we are not pushing it, and we are not promoting it," Swartz said. "It was just a thought that somebody ought to look at."
The board of the Ronald Reagan Library Foundation announced last month that the Tierra Rejada Valley property donated by Blakeley Swartz had been selected as the site for the proposed $30-million library and Ronald Reagan Center for Public Affairs.
The project is on unincorporated land and is subject to public hearings and approval by Ventura County supervisors.
Blakeley Swartz, which owns 632 acres in the area, drew up an early development proposal well before the Reagan project became a consideration. That plan extended to land north and west of of Blakeley Swartz property and called for a sports arena, performing arts center, amphitheater, cemetery, 500-acre county park, botanical garden and a county government center.
Blakeley Swartz gave a copy of the original plan to Supervisor James Dougherty, who represents the area. Dougherty forwarded it to county Planning Director Tom Berg and to Robert Braitman, executive director of the Local Agency Formation Commission.
In memos to Dougherty last spring, both Berg and Braitman cited a variety of county policies that forbid large-scale development in the greenbelt.
The firm has not submitted any official proposal to the county.
Dougherty said Friday that construction of a sports stadium or other major developments unrelated to the library would come "over my dead body." He said that approval of the presidential library should help preserve the existing greenbelt.
The 1,200-acre Tierra Rejada area is restricted to open space uses, which limit development to about one house for every 40 acres. The three nearby cities and the county have all signed a greenbelt agreement--not legally binding--that calls for the area to remain undeveloped, county officials said.
The greenbelt is west of most of the Blakeley Swartz acreage, which is north of Olsen Road between Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley.
Swartz said his firm does not own the land designated for the sports arena and the other structures. He said he had contacted two property owners in the area and did not receive an enthusiastic response.
"But, if a community can set aside land for significant uses, that goes a long way to helping attract those uses," Swartz said. "That was our thought, as community planners."
He said he has had no contact with any major league sports franchise or entertainment company interested in a stadium or amphitheater.
Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton, after meeting with the mayors of Thousand Oaks and Moorpark earlier this month, said they are worried that the additional development may "piggyback or become part of the presidential library."
The mayors agreed last week to send a letter to the Board of Supervisors asking that the county limit development of open spaces in the Tierra Rejada Valley to the presidential library.
Reagan Foundation officials were notified this summer of the proposed uses surrounding the presidential library, but they made no response to them, Swartz said. Foundation officials could not be reached for comment last week.
Copies of the Tierra Rejada development plan were circulated among community members during two meetings organized this summer by Simi Valley City Councilwoman Vicky Howard, who was approached by the firm because of her acquaintance with Swartz. Those meetings were held to gauge public opinion on the proposed presidential library and not to promote other types of development in the Tierra Rejada Valley, Howard said.
County planning officials, in a letter to the Reagan Foundation earlier this month, have asked for the exact site of the proposed library, as well as details on the types of activities and overnight accommodations planned there. A formal application for the project is expected to be received from the foundation next month, officials said.