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"Disputed Ventura hillside land purchased, development planned"

Ventura County Star
By Kevin Clerici
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ventura County Star article online


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A vast swath of the disputed hillside area above Ventura is being sold to a partnership that wants to build an environment-friendly development of estate homes while opening up much of the land to public recreation.

The homes would range from 2-acre estates inside city limits to 160-acre ranches in county jurisdiction — both of which would meet current zoning rules and not require voter approval.

Investec Real Estate Cos., a Santa Barbara-based investment firm, is in escrow to purchase more than 3,800 acres in and around north Ventura, as well as a smaller plot near the ocean, said JK Mondol, a Ventura resident whose local firm would work with Investec to develop the various properties.

The buyers were among a dozen quietly competing for months to purchase the properties from three corporations run by heirs of Ventura's Lloyd family.

"The Lloyd family has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do what's right for our community," Mondol said this week.

The complicated land deal is scheduled to close escrow at the end of this month. Confidentiality agreements prevent the parties from discussing details of the transaction, those involved said. The public listing price was $60 million.

Their proposal for about 120 homes would be the first since the Lloyd family led a controversial and ultimately unsuccessful effort to develop the hillside area with nearly 1,400 tract-style homes. The Lloyd-backed Measure A overwhelmingly failed at the ballot box in 2002. The property owners have kept a relatively low profile since.

"Everything I have heard is encouraging," said Ventura Councilman Bill Fulton. He said the housing totals were "in the ballpark" of what the community has felt was reasonable for the hillside area.

Members of Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation, whose stated mission is to preserve 100 percent of Ventura's untouched hills, declined to comment until they had a chance to review the proposal.

Mondol, a resident for 27 years and former youth baseball and football coach, said he and his partners are sensitive to community desires and will work within existing land-use regulations. If so, voter approval would not be needed under Ventura's growth-control laws.

Promoted as "Mariano Estates," the group's primary development would feature roughly 90 2-acre estates on 285 acres inside city limits and zoned for single-family homes.

Mondol and his wife, Janet, already own 70 of those acres, north of Ventura High School and above the Hobson Heights neighborhood near Hall Canyon. Much of the area includes steep slopes, and complicated city slope-density rules likely would restrict the number of homes — being billed as executive estates — to fewer than 100. The development also would have several access roads, in contrast to the Lloyd proposal, which upset some neighbors with a system that would have funneled traffic to a single road.

Most of the land being purchased — about 3,500 acres — is in an unincorporated area under county jurisdiction and currently being used for cattle ranching, oil extraction and orchard crops. That land would be developed sparingly, Mondol said, likely with about 23 ranches of 160 acres each.

A grazing corridor would be maintained. Other ideas include an equestrian center and botanical garden.

Large portions of that land could be opened for the first time to the public — including a path to Ventura's most dominant hillside landmark, a towering pair of blue gum eucalyptus trees known as "Two Trees."

"People should not have to trespass to reach our beautiful landmark," Mondol said.

The Ventura Hillsides Conservancy is a possible partner to manage hundreds of acres of donated land. The land trust was created to preserve the hillsides and has designed an intricate public trail system for the area.

"We intend to implement their full (trails) plan," said Mondol, a frequent hiker and outdoor enthusiast. "We feel that even more trails need to go through the land than what they are asking for."

Barbara Harison, the conservancy's executive director, said that so far, the dialogue has been positive.

The spacious hillside lots with their panoramic views could provide much-needed executive housing and help lure business, said Steve Doll, a local commercial real estate broker.

"Corporations locate close to where the president is," Doll said. "Ventura has lost businesses to other communities that could provide executive housing."

Phil Ranger, whose great-grandfather was Ventura pioneer and philanthropist E.P. Foster and whose great-uncle Joseph Sexton planted trees at the Two Trees site, said he was pleased by the group's willingness to increase public recreation spaces.

"We all sneak onto our hills, but we don't really have access to our hills," he said. "Ventura would greatly benefit by something that is done right."

Gary Storer, broker for the Lloyd-controlled corporations, said Mondol and Investec's group emerged as the buyers because of their financial security and commitment to be good stewards of the land.

Mondol said the development would be "eco-friendly," with houses built to "green standards."

Once the sale is finalized, his group plans to work quickly to address remaining infrastructure and environmental issues and refine the conceptual site plan to be submitted to the city. The exact number of homes won't be known until needed environmental studies are completed.

"This is not about cramming as many homes in there as possible," said Mondol, owner of Pacific Rim Realtors.

Developers and proponents of downtown revival have long eyed the land deal's third component: the 11-acre Beach Ranch, a triangle-shaped parcel bordered by Highway 101, Sanjon Road and Front Street. The property, commonly referred to as the "triangle site" because of its shape, represents the largest undeveloped area downtown. The property includes the land where Joe's Crab Shack sits.

City leaders have studied the site as a possible location for a transit center. With its ocean views and proximity to downtown and the freeway, it is zoned for everything from a hotel to residential and commercial uses. Plans for the site are still being developed, and any proposal would need Coastal Commission approval.

Sale of Hillside Land for Development Pending

The sale of 3,800 hillside acres to a real estate investment company is pending and expected to close by the end of October. According to the Ventura County Star, conceptual plans call for about 120 estates which could include 90 houses on two-area lots within the City of Ventura and 23 ranches of 160 acres each on County land. Such a proposal would likely conform with existing zoning and would not require voter approval. Under the scenario described in the article, some of the land could also be opened for public use, including access to the Two Trees hilltop.

The VCHP Board will follow the transaction, and as we learn more of the details, we will communicate with our supporters. Thank you for your continued interest.


Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation
Ventura, CA 93003

(805) 665-3820

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