2014-05-22 / Community

CRPD moving ahead with Rancho Potrero additions

By Becca Whitnall

BETTER ACCESS—The trailhead at Rancho Potrero where a parking lot is going to be constructed. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers BETTER ACCESS—The trailhead at Rancho Potrero where a parking lot is going to be constructed. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect information received after the publication of the original article.

Long-held plans to improve public access to the picturesque Rancho Potrero open space in Newbury Park are moving ahead.

Six and a half years after the intensely debated specific plan for the area was finally approved, the Conejo Recreation and Park District, with financial support from the City of Thousand Oaks, will begin improvements outlined in the plan this fall, starting with a parking lot, picnic benches and a restroom near the trailhead off Lynn Road.

Currently, the property is only accessible to hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders, who must park along the road.

The new parking area would provide spaces for about 30 cars, according to Tom Hare, CRPD administrator of parks and planning.

“It’s going to be asphalt chips, like the parking lot at Wildwood Park. It’s not going to be striped or anything,” Hare said.

But a notice from CRPD that went out in April to residents living nearby indicated the lot would have room for 51 cars, not 30, causing some who’ve watched the development of Rancho Potrero closely to question the change.

“We were able to persevere (while forming the 2007 plan) and local politicians agreed to this 30-vehicle trailhead parking lot. Now they’re looking to almost double it in size,” said John Fonti, president of Estancia Homeowners Association. The Estancia homes are located across from Rancho Potrero.

 Fonti said even 30 spots is overkill because not that many people visit the trailhead at a time.

“Right now we only see three, four or five (vehicles at a time), at most,” he said.

Dave Hettwer, president of the nearby Hacienda Homeowners Association, wishes the park district would save the money on building a bigger parking lot and instead use those funds for making other improvements at Rancho Potrero.

Hettwer was part of the focus group that examined the plans for the 326-acre site in 2007 and fought for a 30-space parking lot.

“I don’t think there are any major objections to having a trailhead parking lot,” he said, “but there’s no need to have it quite so big. . . . It’s money that could be used to make the park better in other ways.”

The money in question is coming from the city, Hare said.

“When the property was purchased in 1993, it was a joint effort,” he said. “We paid $1.9 million and the city paid $1 million. The city said when we’re ready to develop it, they’ll kick in $450,000 because that evens it.”

During a public outreach meeting hosted by CRPD at Rancho Potrero in April, the only other concern residents expressed was how late the bathrooms and parking lot would remain open.

“They said at the meeting it was going to be closed at dusk, so I don’t see a huge controversy because we already agreed to the plan in 2007,” Hettwer said.

Hare said he expects bidding on the project to get underway in the next month with work starting in October.

Work at the site has to be done in four-month increments in order to avoid disturbing the mating season of the grasshopper sparrow, a protected species which calls the area home, Hare said.

Future improvements planned for Rancho Potrero—which also houses the 20-acre Two Winds Ranch public equestrian facility— include a 60-person shaded picnic structure and an outdoor classroom with benches.

Plans for a 100-person pavilion 200-person pavilion and a 100-space parking lot at the site were scrapped in 2007 because of pressure from open-space advocates and local environmentalists.

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