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Ventura County

Mini-City in Oxnard Gets Key Approval

Growth: The Planning Commission votes to recommend the 2,800-home RiverPark development to City Council, and praises its use of green space.


Leaping over a crucial governmental hurdle, developers of Oxnard's $750-million RiverPark mini-city have come a step closer to starting construction late this summer.

The city Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the 2,800-home development Thursday night. The City Council will consider it Aug. 27.

"We crossed the finish line tonight," said developer Paul Keller, who is partnering with David O. White in what would be the largest project of its kind in Ventura County.

A heavily landscaped home and business development, the project was praised by planning commissioners for its extensive use of green space in neighborhoods and commercial areas. There are to be 10 parks, some with soccer and baseball fields, walking paths and children's play areas. A reservoir would be created from old gravel pits.

Even affordable housing advocates, who initially were skeptical, gave developers high marks for increasing low-income housing on the site. When completed, as many as 27.5% of the homes in RiverPark could be designated for people with low or moderate incomes.

"I think this is the type of project that speaks to the role we need to play in the county," said Barbara Macri-Ortiz, an advocate for affordable housing. "I will use this program as an example of a development that houses workers."

RiverPark's homes would be clustered around community green spaces. A town square would be bordered by shops and restaurants, a convention center and 600-room hotel, and an exhibition hall.

But developers said they have had no luck attracting a movie theater because Ventura's Johnson Drive theater complex is too close to the proposed multi-screen venue at RiverPark.

Disappointed commissioners urged them to continue trying because Oxnard has no first-run theater and residents must travel to nearby cities to see a new movie.

Oxnard has been trying for at least eight years to attract a theater complex downtown to help revitalize the city's night-time activities.

At one point, Commissioner Morey Navarro threatened to vote against RiverPark if a theater was not included. He said he would even help attract one.

"I can assure you I can close a deal," Navarro said. "We're basically building a brand new city ... it would seem we [should] provide an avenue of entertainment for local people. If not, I think we're missing the boat."

Keller said RiverPark is still "very, very interested" in getting a theater. The commission's vote Thursday specified that a theater may be added to the plan in the future.

Developers hope to break ground by late summer and open the first of the project's five phases by 2004 after construction of a new freeway interchange and the widening of the adjacent Santa Clara River Bridge--a $100-million project that began in May.

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