SIMI VALLEY — Amid hearty applause from Wood Ranch residents, the Simi Valley City Council on Monday approved construction of the $250-million Long Canyon housing development that promises to include a new Wood Ranch elementary school.
The council voted unanimously to allow New Urban West to build the first 214 houses in a planned 652-home subdivision, the last unbuilt section of the massive Wood Ranch community.
Council members approved the development agreement under which New Urban West will buy the 1,850-acre Long Canyon parcel from the Simi Valley Unified School District.
Using money from the sale, school officials must build the badly needed elementary school before construction has begun on the 251st house in the Long Canyon project.
Wood Ranch resident Denise Guerrero, the mother of four children and president of a neighboring homeowners association, welcomed the development that will ultimately allow the school to relieve pressure at crowded Madera Elementary.
"I am convinced that the school district will, in fact, go forward with its promise to use the proceeds from this sale to build the elementary school," Guerrero said.
The Long Canyon plan won approval with virtually no opposition, thanks to heavy lobbying by New Urban West developer Tom Zanic, who recruited Wood Ranch neighbors to form a pro-development group, Friends of Long Canyon.
At least 50 of the group's 300 members appeared at Monday's council hearing, many of them sporting the group's large green buttons on their lapels.
"Anything's possible when you have the neighbors and the developer and the electeds working together to get something accomplished," said newly named Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Williamson. "When the 251st house goes up, boy, there had better be a slab over there for that school."
The council quickly swept through votes approving changes to the Wood Ranch Specific Plan and the city's General Plan, and lingered only briefly over two issues raised earlier by the city's Planning Commission.
Zanic had objected when the commission sought to require him to build one- and two-story homes in Long Canyon in the same ratio as they were built elsewhere in Wood Ranch--8% are single-story while 92% have two stories. Council members decided not to hold Zanic to that formula.
The council also overruled the commission's requirement that Zanic build a median down the center of 1st Street, the main artery for the development. Several Wood Ranch residents argued against the median, saying it would ruin the "country road" feel of an otherwise open four-lane road.
Zanic's strong support in Simi Valley contrasts sharply with some of the criticism leveled by the developer's customers in neighboring Moorpark.
Some of them say Zanic misled them three years ago when he sold them what were supposed to be exclusively large homes in Moorpark's Tuscany tract.
Zanic sold several dozen 3,600- to 4,100-square-foot homes in the tract, promising in a pact with the homeowners association that he would build out the neighborhood with houses of a similar luxury size.
Instead, as the real estate market for luxury homes softened, Zanic downsized the models and finished the neighborhood with houses that were smaller, ranging from 2,350 square feet to 3,100 square feet.
Tuscany tract homeowners have complained that the change hurt their property values.
"We've had a problem getting these homes sold," said Lori Rutter, who owns one of the larger homes. "The Realtors look at the [property comparisons] and they have the difficulty of selling a 4,000-square-foot home when there's a 2,000-square-foot home next door. When you can live in the same neighborhood, why buy a bigger house?"