Following more than a decade of delays and a costly legal battle, the Simi Valley City Council is exempting a developer from growth control laws in exchange for $3.5 million in cash and 1,800 acres of public open space.
The agreement, which allows Long Beach Equities to build 550 homes on Marr Ranch in the hills north of Simi Valley, was approved unanimously at a public hearing late Monday.
The developer also agreed to pay a portion of the cost of extending Yosemite Avenue and Presidio Drive to link the project with city streets, and to set aside land for a fire station.
In exchange for the cash and land, the council voted to exempt the development from the city's growth control ordinance, which sets a strict limit on the number of permits issued for residential development each year. Currently there are seven projects with a total of 1,920 houses seeking permits.
Council members praised the Marr Ranch plan, which they said would bring needed revenue and attractive, upscale housing to the city.
"This is a very solid project that is really going to be an asset for the city," Mayor Greg Stratton said. "I think we're all glad to see that it is finally getting under way."
Portions of Marr Ranch fall within Simi Valley's "sphere of influence," meaning it is designated for eventual annexation and is included in the city's General Plan for development.
Long Beach Equities first began planning the Marr Ranch project more than a decade ago. But changes in the city's General Plan and adoption of a citywide growth control ordinance stalled it.
Seeking an exemption from the ordinance, Long Beach Equities sued the city in 1988, but lost on appeal. Simi Valley paid $165,000 in legal fees to combat the suit, said Ken Schechter, the city's budget officer.
Under the agreement approved Monday, the developer would be allowed to build up to 137 homes a year for four years, beginning in November, 1996.
The project encompasses about 160 undeveloped lots purchased decades ago and scattered through a portion of the property designated for open space. Property owners who showed up at Monday's meeting were unhappy with the agreement.
Russell Page, a 72-year-old Santa Ana engineer, told the council that his mother bought 4,000 square feet of land in 1931.
"We have paid taxes on this property for some 63 years," Page said. "Now what has happened to us? We are being left out to dry."
But Councilman Bill Davis said the Long Beach project could be a boon for the lot owners.
"None of (the lot owners) have developed their property so far because they couldn't afford to put in all the water and sewer lines and everything else," Davis said. "Now that's going to be done for them. This is definitely going to do them more good than harm."
Robert Friedman, president of Long Beach Equities, said he is anxious to begin construction.
"We agree with the staff report," Friedman said. "We are ready to proceed."
But before Long Beach Equities can break ground on the project, it must submit a detailed development plan to the city, said Laura Kuhn, deputy director of advanced planning.
Once that plan is reviewed, other studies may be required, Kuhn said.
"After we see the detailed development plans, we'll know what else we need to ask for," Kuhn said.