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Planning Officials Tour Whiteface Mountain Development Site : Simi Valley: The commissioners travel through Dry and Tapo canyons to view two housing project locations.


Standing knee-deep in mustard plants with the Simi Valley Planning Commission looking on, Bill Gilmore clutched a development map in one hand and with the other pointed across a rolling meadow toward the future.

"Madera Road will go right where those cows are," he said.

Half a dozen of the long-horned animals stared curiously at the city planners as they studied the terrain, trying to imagine the roadway extension that would wind its way through two golf courses and a 360-unit luxury housing development.

Gilmore is supervisor of the $60-million project--one of two housing developments planned near Whiteface Mountain in northern Simi Valley--that will be built by Los Angeles-based Hermes Development International.

But on Tuesday, Gilmore was simply a tour guide, leading members of the Planning Commission and its staff on a bumpy four-wheel-drive excursion through undeveloped Dry and Tapo canyons to get a first-hand look at the project site. It extends roughly from the north end of Sycamore Drive on the west to the north end of Tapo Canyon Road on the east.

Although the City Council approved the development last year, the Planning Commission must still sign off on detailed plans for the development.

The commission at its July 21 meeting will consider approving the first phase of the project.

If approved, work is expected to start in the fall on the first leg of the Madera Road extension--beginning at Tapo Canyon Road--and the two golf courses, said Eric Taylor, senior planner for VTN West Inc., which represents the developer. He said the project could be completed within a year.

Because of Simi Valley's slow-growth ordinance, which limits the number of building permits that can be issued annually, it could be two or more years before the residential portion of the development is built, said Laura Kuhn, the city's deputy director of planning, who was on the tour Tuesday.

The Hermes development is only one of two projects planned for the canyon area. Watt Development is planning a private community for senior citizens, which would include 1,100 houses and a private golf course, in neighboring Sand Canyon.

As part of its development, Watt would be responsible for extending Madera Road from its northern terminus near the Simi Valley Freeway to the Hermes extension in Dry Canyon.

Taylor, who also represents Watt, said that Watt is working on a new environmental report and that it could be a year or more before Watt is ready to present its final plans to the city.

Planning Commission members who joined in Tuesday's tour of the Hermes property said they were impressed with what they saw and heard.

Commissioner David McCormick said the entire Whiteface project will rival Simi Valley's other premier development--Wood Ranch--once completed.

"Wood Ranch was a good addition to the community," McCormick said. "I think this will enhance it even more."

McCormick dismissed complaints from some residents who opposed the Whiteface project because it would intrude on an area reserved until now as open space.

The commissioner said he believes that the Hermes project was well planned because it would be spread out over 1,500 acres across two canyons. He also noted that the developer expects to spend as much as $3 million on wildlife corridors, or passages where animals could travel unmolested within Whiteface.

"I think they've done a good job at trying to lessen the impact on the area and keep it as rustic as possible," he said. "It's going to be nice and peaceful up here."

Commissioner Mike Piper said one of his major concerns was making sure that the developers followed through with their promise to use ground-well water or reclaimed water to irrigate the golf courses.

"I want to make sure we nail that down," he said. "The public won't make an issue of it because we've had a lot of rain. But two years ago, they would have been raising hell because of the drought."

Whiteface Project Developers: Los Angeles-based Walt Development and Hermes Development Internatinal. Planned: Walt Development proposes to build about 1,000 single family homes for seniors and a private golf course in Sand Canyon. Hermes Development plans to build 80 luxury houses and a semi-private golf course in neighboring Dry Canyon, and 284 homes and a public golf course in Tapo Canyon. Source: Simi Valley Planning Department

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