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City Officials Consider Plan to Preserve Ranch for Recreation

Thousand Oaks council members tonight will discuss new zoning for a 326-acre parcel to prevent housing development.

May 06, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A decade after helping to acquire hundreds of acres at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains, Thousand Oaks officials tonight are set to consider whether to adjust the site's zoning -- a crucial step before annexing the property, where the city hopes to build a public equestrian center.

The city's General Plan for the mostly vacant Rancho Potrero, south of Newbury Park's upscale Dos Vientos community, now permits limited residential uses, meaning that more than 200 homes could be built. But because several government agencies now own Rancho Potrero's 326 acres, the land has not been a development target since the early 1990s.

City staff recommends permanently ending the potential for homes on the site by designating more than half the land -- the areas closest to the mountains -- as open space and zoning 146 acres near Lynn Road for parks, golf courses and other public and recreational uses.

Such pre-zoning is required before the land, now in the county's jurisdiction, could be annexed. If approved, the zoning could not be changed later without placing the matter before voters.

"If we have an opportunity to increase our open space inventory, I'm going to take advantage of it," said Mayor Pro Tem Bob Wilson Sr.

The Conejo Recreation and Park District, majority owner of Rancho Potrero, supports the zoning change to keep the land free of residences and available for public use.

"We're pretty much saying this is going to be green," said park district General Manager Tex Ward. "This community has done a great job in protecting open space."

But Councilman Ed Masry thinks the property may be safer if it remains under county control to ensure that future city councils won't be persuaded to allow development. He said he has received dozens of e-mails on the issue, and they are 10-to-1 against annexation.

"Turning this land over to the city is like letting the fox guard the henhouse," said Jocelyn DeVault, a saleswoman who lives in Newbury Park. "We don't want stadiums, ball fields, more bright lights and luxury homes" on the site.

Masry wants additional open space in Thousand Oaks, but said he doesn't support the city spending more than $3 million to build an equestrian center, a matter subject to a future council vote.

He said that Two Winds Ranch, a private stable in the area, could be granted a long-term lease, which would give the operator incentive to spend the money needed to improve his site.

Wilson said the city should avoid going into any business that could be handled better by the private sector.

"I'm not opposed to an equestrian center, but I am opposed to putting in a couple of million dollars to build one," he said. "I don't want to be stuck running it and I'm not for the city footing the bill." Rancho Potrero, once known as Broome Ranch, was purchased for $4.2 million in fall 1993 by the city, the park district and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint-powers authority that includes the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The park district contributed $1.9 million and the city invested $1 million. The National Park Service eventually put up $1.3 million to acquire 314 acres that were part of the original 640-acre Broome parcel.

The city is considering extending its General Plan designation of "existing parks, golf courses and open space" to 107 acres of federal land adjacent to Rancho Potrero. That land, already in the city's planning area, would not be annexed.

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