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Moorpark Project Will Go to Voters

A split City Council sets a Feb. 28 special election on the $1-billion North Park Village. The plans include 1,680 residences and a nature preserve.

October 07, 2005|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A divided Moorpark City Council this week decided it was time for voters to choose the fate of a $1-billion lakeside community proposed for the hills north of Moorpark College, a project that could increase the city's population by nearly 6,000 residents.

The conflict over the largest housing tract considered by Moorpark since the city incorporated has been going on for more than a dozen years. An earlier 3,221-home proposal known as Hidden Creek Ranch was scuttled by a 1998 referendum. The landowners have since agreed to sell their property to a San Diego-based development group that negotiated with the city to build fewer homes with more amenities, including a man-made lake, in its North Park Village project.

The council voted 4 to 1 on Wednesday, setting a Feb. 28 special election. The city's more than 16,000 voters will choose whether they want to permit construction of an upscale neighborhood of nearly 1,700 residences, a nature preserve, shopping areas and schools. Because the land is outside Moorpark's borders, city growth-control rules require that the plan be approved by voters before the property can be annexed.

The lone no vote came from Councilwoman Roseann Mikos, who contends that the ballot measure's wording notes only the proposal's benefits.

"Not only is this language more favorable to the developer, I think that's inappropriate," Mikos said. "We don't have a ballot question that's neutral."

She maintains that the project would generate too much traffic, destroy critical wildlife habitat and create more urban sprawl. Another concern, Mikos said, was that the amount of grading needed for North Park -- 27.5 million cubic yards of earth -- was greater than Hidden Creek would have required.

"Any time you're going to change the topography of the land this much, there's something wrong with this picture," she said.

But Councilman Clint Harper, who suggested the language, said putting details in the ballot question gives voters a clearer idea of what North Park would bring to the city. "When you're an opponent of a project that has a number of beneficial features, I can understand her rationale for not wanting those listed," Harper said. "I think it came out very well.... Now the voters take over where the council left off."

Mayor Patrick Hunter, who with Harper negotiated the development deal on behalf of the city, believes the project's liabilities outweigh its benefits. Hunter and Mikos are expected to work together to write a ballot argument against North Park.

Hunter, a longtime supporter of the city's growth-control law, voted in favor of putting the project on the ballot because he believes the voters should make the final decision.

Adding 23,000 vehicle trips a day to local roads and reshaping numerous hillsides are among reasons to oppose the project, Hunter said. Another is that land that is annexed generates lower property taxes for the city, he said. "If this project is approved, it will change the character of the city forever. It will turn what is now a semirural, small community into a large city."

North Park Village LP, the firm behind the project, proposes 1,680 homes, a 2,121-acre nature preserve, a 52-acre artificial lake and swimming lagoon, about 30 acres of improved parks, and 70,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

Harper, who is helping prepare brochures promoting North Park, believes such amenities will appeal to the thousands of families with children who live in Moorpark. "It will not be an easy election, but I think the demographics of the town will be favorable to this project," he said.

But the nonprofit group Save Open Space Santa Susanna Mountains, which has already held three rallies against North Park, plans to continue its campaign against the project.

Diane Bentz, co-chairwoman of the group, said the city should protect the green belt that separates it from Simi Valley. And with more than 3,000 dwellings scheduled to be built within Moorpark's borders in addition to the North Park project, there will already be added strain on local roadways.

"With North Park added, city roads will just be swelling with cars. If you commute on [highways] 118 or 23, you know: It's just a mess," Bentz said.

The group will continue to raise funds to get its message out to voters. Bentz said she expected North Park to be defeated at the ballot box. "We'll have to fight hard, but I think we will prevail," she said. "From the polling we've done and the reaction we've gotten from the community, more than 50% of the people do not want this project."

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