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Developer Offer Holds Hope for Homeless

June 29, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

It's not on Skid Row and it's not exactly the Salvation Army.

But there's a chance--albeit slim--that the million-dollar price tag on a rambling, 5,500-square-foot stucco house in Thousand Oaks might help Ventura County's homeless problem.

Thousand Oaks developer Gary Collett has offered the house--complete with 72 windows, two fireplaces, three sunken living areas and a library--to Zoe Christian Center, which runs the county's largest homeless shelter as well as two satellite shelters.

Zoe officials have dismissed the idea of actually housing the homeless there. Instead, they have agreed to accept the structure for resale with the hope of pocketing a profit.

Ideally, the buyer would pay to move the house. Otherwise, Zoe would sell the house only after paying for the relocation and a new site. If all that fails, the organization would move the house to one of two sites that its officials are considering for a planned relocation. There, it would be used as a day-care center or an administrative headquarters.

'A Blessing'

However the arrangement works, the Rev. Jim Gilmer, Zoe's director, hailed the proposed donation to the perennially strapped organization as "a blessing from the Lord."

"The only catch," Gilmer explains to prospective buyers, is that the house has to be moved from its site in Carlisle Canyon, a chaparral-covered notch in the Santa Monica Mountains at the edge of Westlake Village.

It's no small catch, according to local real estate agents and professional house movers. Buying another piece of property and moving the house could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1.9 million, depending on the location of the land and the distance the house is to be moved.

Zoe, which has more than once been on the brink of eviction from its main Oxnard shelter for failure to pay its rent, can hardly afford such a burden.

The group has raised only $260,000 toward the $1 million that city officials say it might cost to acquire land for a new site for its primary shelter. It must relocate in the wake of a ruling by the city that residents there are at risk because of the shelter's proximity to a fertilizer plant.

Meanwhile, time is running out on Collett's offer. He has said he wants to begin building a newer, more lavish house on the Carlisle Canyon site within 60 to 90 days. City officials estimate that it will take no less than six weeks to merely obtain a house-relocation and building permit from the city, a process Zoe officials have not begun. If Zoe can't take the house, Collett said he'd keep it, spending several hundred thousand dollars to remodel and expand it.

"They'd certainly be pushing their deadline," said George Pope, chief of Oxnard's building division.

Gilmer remains undaunted, however.

He said he hopes that "the Christian community" will donate property on which to situate the house for resale, freeing Zoe to pocket the proceeds.

"The house has been valued at $1 million," he said. "Even if we get a few hundred thousand dollars less, we'd be in a good position."

None of this is what Collett had in mind when he first proposed turning over the house.

Need for Shelter

After hearing a Zoe official's appeal to the Thousand Oaks City Council last winter for rent and relocation funds, Collett, 37, said he began thinking of the need for a shelter there.

"It hit me, 'Hey, this is you and I," said Collett, who manufactures radio transmitters and receivers for motorcycle helmets.

He concluded that it would be "a darned shame" to demolish the house, an idea with which he was toying. While built only five years ago as a model for a luxury development that never got off the ground, it doesn't hold a candle to the 17 $2- to $3-million "estates" that he plans to build around it on one- to nine-acre plots near Lake Sherwood.

"I don't want it to look like the poorhouse in the neighborhood," he said.

Zoe officials first considered finding a Thousand Oaks site for the house and using it as a shelter there. But they couldn't find a suitable property.

Then they decided to try to sell the house for relocation, which still remains their preference, although it means breaking the house into three or four pieces and trucking it over the Conejo Grade.

"This is a beautiful house and it would make a family very happy," Gilmer said. He added that a mortuary owner who plans to expand his business has expressed interest in it.

Others, however, have not been so easily persuaded of the transaction's merits.

"These people are wrong in assuming that they'll make a lot of money on this," said Ed Kay, a spokesman for the House Moving Contractors Assn., a trade group composed of 11 Los Angeles and Orange County house-moving firms.

Rising Costs

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