Ventura County officials agreed this week to swap a 14.7-acre plot of land crucial to the mammoth Town Center development in Oxnard for a larger plot northeast of the project.
Under the agreement approved Tuesday by county supervisors, the county will part with an equipment yard that stands in the path of a freeway improvement project that has to be completed before most of the Town Center can be built.
In exchange, the project's developers, Buellton-based River Edge, agreed to give the county 22.5 acres of land in El Rio and build $4.5-million worth of buildings to replace the existing facilities. The deal also provides the county with a $2-million cushion against cost overruns on the project.
"I think it's a good deal for everyone," said Richard Wittenberg, the county's chief administrative officer. "The Town Center gets built, and our responsibility that the taxpayer be protected has been fulfilled."
Larry Lahr, the president of River Edge, also expressed satisfaction over the deal, which clears the way for improvements to the intersection of the Ventura Freeway and California 1 near the project, which was begun in January.
"There are a lot of headaches between now and completion," he said. "But having this allows us to keep moving and to keep the momentum of the project."
Optimism on Caltrans
Meanwhile, county officials expressed optimism that the state Department of Transportation would decide this year to fund a share of the $28-million freeway widening project that will improve the intersection of the Ventura Freeway and California 1 within the next five years.
"It's very positive," said Richard Spicer, acting executive director of Ventura County's Transportation Commission, who attended a hearing this week to determine the budget for next year's State Transportation Improvement Program.
He said the California Transportation Commission, based on testimony received Tuesday, will decide late next month whether to fund the project, which is considered a top priority by the Ventura County Transportation Commission and the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
The only cloud over the deal came from Supervisor Susan Lacey, who warned supervisors that residents in El Rio would be wary of increases in traffic caused by the relocated yard.
"The county will have to jump through every hoop that a private person would have to do, and there's a chance that we might not be able to jump through them all," said Lacey, whose district includes El Rio. "Folks over there are concerned about traffic."
Former Site of Dairy
The equipment yard--which houses county maintenance vehicles as well as the county's fleet of cars, including all of the patrol cars in the Sheriff's Department--will occupy the former site of a dairy at Vineyard Avenue and Lambert Street.
The $500-million Town Center project, which is the largest commercial development planned for Oxnard, will bring office buildings, hotels, a mall and a cultural arts facility to a 265-acre site in the next 15 years.
Under a development agreement with the city of Oxnard, only a quarter of the project can be developed before the interchange is improved. The improvements, which will widen the freeway between Johnson Drive and Vineyard Avenue, were also part of a settlement that Oxnard reached with Ventura in a lawsuit over the Town Center.
Lahr said company officials had reason to believe that Caltrans eventually will condemn between six and 10 acres for the improvements, but they feared delays. River Edge also plans to retain up to four acres of the land for a parking lot, he said.
Lahr expressed relief over the county's acceptance of the deal, which he said was nearly five years in the making.
"The county would say, 'We'd like this site,' " he said, "and we'd go out and try to make a deal and everybody would know that we were buying for the county so the price would go up. Then an official would decide they didn't want it."