YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Buildable Acreage Within Cities Limited, Study Finds

Growth: Urban planner says constraints from SOAR issues may mean higher housing costs, smaller lots, more condos.


Thousands of acres inside Ventura County's 10 cities are still developable, but a new study has found that nearly half of that acreage is made up of steep hillsides and farmland, which could make building on it extremely costly or politically unpopular.

The result could ultimately mean higher housing costs, smaller lots and more apartments and condominiums, according to the mapping study released Tuesday by Ventura urban planner Bill Fulton.

"The era of the big single-family lot in Ventura County is clearly over," said Fulton, who compiled the maps as part of a yearlong study that his research group is undertaking in concert with the Southern California Studies Center at USC.

Fulton's findings come a year and a half after passage across the county of Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources measures, or SOAR.

Those measures--some of the strictest in the nation--require support from a majority of voters before development can occur outside strictly proscribed growth boundaries.

A guiding principle behind SOAR was to keep the sprawl of Los Angeles County, with its more than 9 million residents, from invading neighboring Ventura County, where 750,000 residents are concentrated in cities with relatively open unincorporated areas in between.

Because developing farmland and open space in those unincorporated areas is off limits without voter approval, Fulton set out to gauge the realistic potential for development within cities.

Fulton said his maps demonstrate how strong those constraints really are, and should "inform the policy debate about land use, which is beginning to emerge because SOAR forced the issue."

The maps will be presented Thursday at a daylong development conference in Ventura.

Fulton said that although his findings are only preliminary, and based on 1996 maps, they suggest several likely trends over the 20-year course of SOAR:

* Housing prices countywide will continue to rise, particularly if well-paying, high-tech jobs continue to be created in Thousand Oaks and other cities.

* Single-family homes in Simi Valley, Moorpark and remaining areas of Thousand Oaks will be built on smaller lots.

* More middle- and upper-middle class families will live on the county's west end, especially in Ventura and Santa Paula, and more residents will flock to townhomes or live in houses built in redevelopment zones such as Ventura's downtown and Avenue areas.

"The downtown areas in the county are going to give birth to a real urban lifestyle we haven't seen in this county in a long time," Fulton said.

* More debates over cities paying for roads and other services to serve the wealthy will take place. The recent controversy over Santa Paula's plans to expand its boundaries into neighboring canyons to build million-dollar homes could play out in other areas of the county, as space runs out for luxury housing on flat land.

According to Fulton's mapping, there are roughly 70,000 acres of already developed land and 80,000 acres of undeveloped land within city growth boundaries.

But only about 30,000 acres of the undeveloped land can be easily developed, he said. The rest is publicly owned parkland, farmland and steep hillsides.

Richard Francis, a lawyer and co-architect of the SOAR policy, said that even though the maps are useful, he doesn't agree with Fulton's assertion that building on farmland inside urban areas will be politically unpopular.

"The design of SOAR is to allow the farmland within the boundaries to be built on," he said. "We said stuff inside the urban boundaries should be developed first."

Francis said he believes the SOAR boundaries will allow construction of up to 60,000 homes for 180,000 residents within cities. He said he doesn't think the county's population will outstrip that housing supply during the next 20 years.

But he agreed with Fulton's belief that SOAR would spur urban revitalization projects, and construction of townhouses, condominiums and apartments.

Builders would not have been as interested in that type of construction if land use were less limited, Francis said. And in the long run, he said, it's the only way to keep Ventura County affordable for the working class.

"Builders have got to build, and they will build for the constraints defined for them," he said. "That is particularly important for the lower end of the middle-income residents, which is where all of our support personnel come from."

Bill Watkins of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project called the maps a good start.

However, he said, "to discuss SOAR intelligently, you have to look at projected demand, births, migration, business growth. It's a lot more than looking at a map that's 4 years old."


Ventura County Growth

Steep hillsides and farmland represent nearly half the area left to develop within city boundaries, according to a new study. The result could be higher housing costs, smaller lots, and more apartments and condominiums.


Source: Solimar Research Group Inc.

Los Angeles Times Articles