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214-Home Project Approved

Ventura City Council allows the development near the Montalvo shopping center, saying high-density growth is the reality after SOAR.


Despite angry protests from neighbors, the Ventura City Council has approved construction of 214 homes on a long-vacant parcel of land near the county Government Center.

Voter approval in 1995 of an anti-sprawl initiative has forced the land-poor city to use every available acre to its fullest, council members said Monday before unanimously approving the development behind the new Montalvo Square Shopping Center on Victoria Avenue.

"This is the beginning of what it will be like," Councilman Sandy Smith said. "We're looking at densities in the downtown area of up to 56 units per acre. That's the realities of the SOAR initiative. We're growing inward versus outward."

The plan would put 120 single-family homes, a 94-unit condominium complex for seniors and a three-acre park on 26 acres. The single-family homes are expected to sell for about $450,000 and up.

Developer John Ashkar of Los Angeles also told council members that he would amend his plan to add 10 condominiums designated for low- to moderate-income seniors.

City planners have anticipated allowing a mixed-use development in the area for more than 20 years, but no developer had stepped forward until Ashkar presented his plan in 2000.

Council members praised the project design and said the development would complete a master plan for the Montalvo area.

"This project really does a good job of incorporating the commercial, retail and housing elements, probably more so than any project we've done in the city," Smith said.

But a handful of nearby residents opposed the development, saying it would cram too many homes into the area and would increase traffic.

John Tunigold told the City Council that he had tried to develop his 1 1/2-acre parcel along Hill Road five years ago, but was told that his plan to build six units per acre was too dense. "And now this developer is asking to stuff 13 units per acre? That's way too many," he said.

Other speakers questioned the development's effect on neighborhood schools and police and worried that increased traffic on side streets would pose a danger to children.

"We just spent millions of tax dollars opening up that Victoria-101 interchange, and now you're talking about adding 400 more cars to that small neighborhood," Michele Harer said. "You're going to be adding a tremendous number of cars to that congested Victoria area, and I worry about the impact on that neighborhood."

Ashkar defended his project, pointing out that he planned to build an average of eight units per acre, less than the maximum 23 units per acre that the city's master plan would have allowed.

In addition, he told council members that he had discussed the project with police and school administrators and vowed that the development would not hinder services in the community.

Council members said such high-density projects will likely become more common as the city struggles to find ways to deal with population growth while adhering to the development limitations imposed by the SOAR initiative.

"We embraced the SOAR restrictions, and that has implications for our city," Councilman Neal Andrews said. "We must also be willing to contemplate higher densities and accept some of the trade-offs that come with that."

Chuck Cohen, a representative for Ashkar, said construction probably will begin in 2004.

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