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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | CAMARILLO

Council to Consider Farm Theme Park

January 15, 1998|DAWN HOBBS

In an attempt to preserve farmland, the City Council decided Wednesday to consider a proposal to convert about 25 acres along the Ventura Freeway into an agriculture museum complex.

The McGrath family, which has farmed the Oxnard Plain for more than 120 years, asked the city to annex their property south of the Ventura Freeway and west of Wood Ranch Road so they can proceed with development plans.

Their plan calls for construction of an agriculturally themed commercial center on 25 to 30 acres of a 200-acre stretch of farmland over five to 10 years. The rest of the land would remain agricultural.

County zoning designates the land for agriculture. Under the city's annexation plan, the property is designated for industrial and office development.

Council members voted unanimously to refer the request to the city's planning staff to conduct an environmental review, hold public hearings and bring the matter back to council with the possibility of changing the zoning of land surrounding the complex to agriculture.

The McGrath property along the freeway is now home to the Central Market produce stand, a greenhouse nursery and an annual pumpkin patch.

Roz McGrath, one of nine family members involved in the plan, said the family has done a good job of preserving the land while development has occurred around the property.

While corporate offices and research facilities may come later, "for now we'd like to see the land remain green. If we're going to preserve it as agricultural land, then we have to educate the public about it," she said.

If approved, the project would begin with construction of a 28,000-square-foot museum and a large barn for a year-round farmers market. Free farm tours for groups of children would be offered, as well as paid public tours. A petting zoo and enclosed children's barn would also be featured.

The second phase of the project would include construction of a second barn for retail shops and a multipurpose building for community and private events.

Finally, the third phase calls for the development of a restaurant in a greenhouse setting and possibly a 187,000-square-foot hotel.

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