Sixty Camarillo residents participated in an innovative planning exercise Saturday, deciding in small groups what they would like to see on 250 agricultural and industrial acres off Pleasant Valley Road if development had to occur there.
Eighty-seven of the acres are owned by the Sammis Co., which withdrew a plan for a factory outlet mall in November amid heated public opposition.
Although most of the workshop participants said they could tolerate development on the parcel, nearly half said they would rather retain the green fields that drivers see as they descend the Conejo Grade.
And some participants refused to choose any alternative to agriculture. "I feel like we're being led down a road to make a decision on something we don't want," said Louise Newman, who has lived in Camarillo for 12 years.
City Council members told Sammis in November not to come back with a plan unless it was completely different from the factory outlet mall, and they suggested that much of the site be left as open space. Sammis then appointed a 19-member citizens advisory committee to come up with alternatives.
The committee hired the architectural firm of Peter Calthorpe Associates, which Sammis is paying $3,000 for each of three workshops and $4,000 to $5,000 for each plan it draws up, Peter Calthorpe said.
As an alternative to the Sammis mall, the majority of residents said they could live with one of the three plans--with some adjustments--that were presented Saturday by several San Francisco architects.
The plans had similar components but were configured differently. They were designed for 900 to 1,200 housing units, with 300 to 500 units on the Sammis property alone. They also called for a 250-foot greenbelt between the development and the Ventura Freeway. Two of the plans included a man-made lake, and one of them called for a nine-hole golf course.
Using a mix-and-match approach, most residents favored a plan that included housing, a community center, small stores, an elementary school, bicycle and walking trails, a lake, restaurants and a farmers' market.
But Newman's group refused to choose any of the plans, saying they wanted to see the land preserved for agriculture.
Newman and her husband, Les, said they feared Sammis would take one plan to the city and say it was molded by a consensus of the community, when numerous residents feel as they do.
"Agricultural land can't be replaced," said Constance Andrews, a 15-year resident of the city.
Jay Hill agreed, saying he came to Camarillo to get away from development.
"I moved from the San Fernando Valley to this area so I would be in a beautiful community," he said.
Other residents praised the developer for allowing the community-based planning exercise.
"I think it's a good process," said Sue Paroski, a homemaker and student at UCLA. "It's an interesting process and one a developer should follow." However, she said, "I don't think that they (the plans) are good for this piece of land. I would like to see open space--agriculture preferably."
Advisory committee member Jim Turner said some residents may feel as the preservationists do, but he said he sees their hopes of keeping the agricultural land forever as unrealistic.
Kendra Gullickson, who at 15 is the advisory committee's youngest member, said she wants to see a plan that will bring the community together.
"I want the older people and the younger people to come together and be one community," she said.
Saturday's workshop was the second in a series of three organized by the citizens advisory committee. The final plan for the area will be presented at an April 11 workshop.