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Thousand Oaks Panel Rejects Proposal for Housing Near Wetland : Newbury Park: Planners' initial vote essentially would have killed the development but a later reversal sends it to the council.

October 12, 1994|MATTHEW MOSK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After a contentious nine-hour hearing marked by a 3 a.m. flip-flop, frazzled Thousand Oaks planning commissioners on Tuesday rejected a developer's plan to build 87 houses next to a Newbury Park wetland.

Despite the apparent victory for Newbury Park residents who have fought the Raznick & Sons development plan for nearly a decade, the commission's early morning reversal of a crucial vote saved the project from collapse.

Initially, commissioners said they found numerous inadequacies in the project's environmental study and voted 4 to 1 to require more analysis to ensure residents' safety from calamities such as floods and earthquakes.

But when staff members told the board that rejection of the environmental report would delay a final City Council ruling for months and essentially kill the project, Commissioners Forrest Frields and Irving Wasserman asked for another vote, which led to the reversal.

Commissioners then voted against the project, a decision that was automatically appealed to the council and scheduled for a hearing next week.

Residents who stayed long enough to witness the 3 a.m. reversal stormed out of the meeting and called the process "a sham."

"I think it was totally inappropriate," Newbury Park resident Ricki Mikkelsen said. "They said there needed to be more study on the safety issues, and we agreed. Now it won't get done."

After the meeting, Frields and Wasserman, who joined Commissioner Mervyn Kopp in finally approving the environmental review, defended their decision.

They said the City Council directed them to make a decision and send the project to the council for a final vote next week.

"We had to make a decision on this," Wasserman said. "We had to follow the council's directive."

Raznick spokeswoman Ellen Michiel said only quick approval would keep the Woodland Hills-based developer from pursuing a lawsuit filed against the city after the council rejected the project a year ago.

Planning Commissioner Linda Parks called the reversal a betrayal of the board's duties under state law. She said the developer's request to move quickly should not override questions on safety.

"We are defeating the purpose of this commission if we vote based on scheduling," Parks said. "To ignore the problems that we all agreed existed just to push the project forward is wrong."

Michiel said she was pleased with the outcome despite the commission's recommendation against the project.

"All we wanted was to get to the council," she said. The environmental and safety concerns raised during the hearing have all been thoroughly examined, she said.

The Raznick development, planned for 44 acres near Reino Road and Knollwood Drive, was rejected by the city last October because lot sizes were too small.

Council members said they feared that small lots would encourage residents to wander onto the sensitive wetland nearby.

Raznick sued the city, claiming procedural errors, but agreed not to press the issue until making a final attempt to gain city approval, Michiel said.

In the proposal debated into Tuesday morning, Raznick lopped off nine lots, increasing the size of the 87 remaining lots by an average of 900 square feet.

Commissioners Frields, Wasserman, Parks and Marilyn Carpenter all said the proposed 6,800-square-foot lots needed to be closer in size to existing 7,000- and 8,000-square-foot pads where neighbors live.

But before discussing lot size, commissioners spent hours considering a wide scope of issues including seismic safety, the threat of flooding and liquefaction, parking, and concern for oak trees and wetlands.

Commissioners could not agree on several issues, including the potential of earthquake damage for houses built on imported dirt fill and conflicting reports on the potential for liquefaction.

Kopp blasted the commissioners for raising issues that he considered beyond the scope of any reasonable discussion.

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