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Zoning Change Urged in Effort to Block Project : Thousand Oaks: The city had earlier rejected plans by the developer to build a shopping center on the Newbury Park site.


Thousand Oaks Mayor Judy Lazar is requesting that the City Council consider rezoning a 47-acre parcel in Newbury Park to prevent the landowner from building a shopping center on the site surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

In a memo to the council, Lazar said there are sensitive wetlands and river habitat in the area and that the current zoning, which allows for commercial and residential development, may be inappropriate and should be reconsidered.

The property is owned by Nedjatollah Cohan, who has been caught up in a bitter fight with City Hall for the past 11 years to develop the land. Cohan recently lost a lawsuit he filed against the city for rejecting his plans to build a shopping center and 170 residences on the property, which is situated on a flood plain at the southwest corner of Reino Road and Kimber Drive.

Cohan is in the process of filing an appeal.

Cohan's son Albert Cohen, who changed the spelling of his name years ago, said the family was outraged at the mayor's proposal. He said his family knew nothing about it until Monday.

"I'm shocked," he said. "This is ludicrous. They're trying to take away our property rights. If they downzone my property, they're going to decrease the value of the land."

Cohen said his family will seek a court injunction to stop any attempt by the city to change the zoning on its property until the appeal on the lawsuit is settled.

"If they don't want the property to be developed, they should buy it," he said. "I don't know what is going on with this city any longer."

In the mayor's memo, Lazar wrote that the lawsuit upheld the city's position that the proposed development was inappropriate for the neighborhood. She stated that residents are particularly concerned with prospects of a commercial development in their neighborhood.

"My memo does not necessarily eliminate commercial use," she said. Instead, she said, it suggests it is appropriate for the council to re-evaluate the zoning because of surrounding residential neighborhoods and environmentally sensitive habitats.

If the council were to agree to a zoning change, Lazar said it could be six months or more before it could be implemented.

Cohen accused the city of working with the Ventura County Flood Control District to downzone his family's property so it can more cheaply acquire 4.5 acres of the land needed to build a retention basin.

"If you downzone the property from commercial to residential, it's not worth as much," he said.

Cohen said his family had offered to dedicate the land to the flood-control district if its development was approved.

Meanwhile, neighbors of the Cohan property said they will push the city to change the zoning on the property because they fear the traffic, pollution and noise generated by a shopping center would diminish their quality of life and their property values.

"The city never should have zoned it commercial in the first place," resident Michelle Koetke said. "The city is rectifying its initial mistake."

Koetke vowed that residents, who pressured the City Council to reject Cohan's development proposal, would keep up their efforts to block any commercial development.

"If Mr. Cohan made a bad investment, that's his problem," Koetke said. "He cannot expect us to sit idly by while he drops this nightmare on us."

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