2015-02-19 / Front Page

CRPD vote clears way for mixed use on T.O. Blvd.

Park board agrees to reduce fees charged to developers
By Becca Whitnall

DUAL PURPOSE—The above rendering from Rick Principe’s plans for 1850 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. shows one mixed-use proposal that is in the hands of the city’s planning department. More are sure to follow. 
FILE PHOTO DUAL PURPOSE—The above rendering from Rick Principe’s plans for 1850 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. shows one mixed-use proposal that is in the hands of the city’s planning department. More are sure to follow. FILE PHOTO Developers seeking to build multifamily housing along Thousand Oaks Boulevard cleared a major hurdle this month when the Conejo Recreation and Park District’s board of directors voted in favor of reducing its Quimby fees for that section of the city.

Quimby fees, authorized by the state more than 50 years ago, are paid by developers in exchange for permission to build residential units and are intended to maintain a balance between population size and park amenities.

In Thousand Oaks, Quimby fees have traditionally been calculated using the fair market value of the property under development to approximate what it would cost CRPD to build a park nearby. The goal is to have 4½ acres of additional parkland for every 1,000 people that come into the community.

But at its Feb. 5 meeting, the CRPD board voted to allow developers seeking to build within the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan area—which stretches from Duesenberg Drive in the east to Moorpark Road in the west—to pay a set fee of $9,533 per unit beginning this year.

The fee is to increase 3 percent annually, which roughly mirrors the increase in property value in the city. The board report written by district staff cites a 3.17 percent annual increase in the median sale price of homes in the 91362 ZIP code for the last 15 years.

CRPD director George Lange praised the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Association and park district staff for coming up with a solution to the issue, which the parties have been tackling since early 2014.

“It’s definitely different than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “This collaborative agreement, I think, is great. As a resident since 1965, I’m really pleased to see T.O. Boulevard come up in standard.”

According to a study prepared for and presented to the board by Blair Aas of SCI Consulting Group, the current fee to build multifamily residential housing within the specific plan area—where land is currently worth around $1 million an acre—is about $11,600 per unit.

That amount, developers said, was cost-prohibitive for constructing mixed use with residential in back and retail in front along the boulevard, a goal of the Thousand Oaks City Council as part of improving the downtown area.

“One of the walls we hit that made it almost impossible to build housing on the boulevard was the Quimby fee,” boulevard property owner Dave Gulbranson told the Acorn last year. “We all support Quimby fees. It’s essential that we have parks and recreational facilitates throughout the Conejo. (But) we need either a credit for the commercial aspect of (mixed-use housing) or we need to base the fee on the average price of real estate throughout the Conejo Valley.”

The set fee established Feb. 5 would create some certainty for both developers, in knowing what they can expect to pay in fees, and the district, in terms of planning for incoming funds, said park district administrator Tom Hare, who presented the law change to the board.

Hare said the amount of money the district receives varies greatly from year to year but has dwindled recently as less development occurs due to less space being available.

“We don’t even count on the money because the city is pretty much built out,” he said.

In 2013-14—what Hare called an exceptionally good year for Quimby fees—CRPD brought in $600,000 in revenue from the fees. Still, that’s only a very small part of the district’s $20-million annual budget.

In the last 10 years, the district has averaged about $500,000 in Quimby fee revenue a year, according to Hare.

At the Feb. 5 meeting, board member Joe Gibson voiced concerns about what he called a “sweetheart deal” for developers that would be “leaving money on the table” for the park district.

Given there are no parks in the immediate vicinity where developers have already expressed desire to build homes, the district would have to purchase land if it decided to create a park nearby, where land is more expensive than in other areas of the city, Gibson said.

“I just want to be sure we all understand what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re cutting a deal for the Boulevard Association.”

Gulbranson, representing the association, said it would only be a sweetheart deal if builders could start projects immediately, before the annual increases begin.

“(Gibson) wasn’t wrong. It would be a sweetheart deal if we could put shovels in the ground today, but we can’t,” he said.

Housing likely wouldn’t get built along the stretch of the boulevard without the change, Gulbranson said.

“Quimby works and it’s done a good job,” he said. “It just doesn’t work in that stretch of land.”

The district’s General Plan does not call for anymore parks to be built in the city, CRPD general manager Jim Friedl pointed out at the meeting. Quimby fees collected from T.O. Boulevard housing developers would therefore be used for improvements at existing parks, he said.

In spite of his concerns, Gibson joined the rest of the board in voting 4-0 in favor of the change. Park board member Ed Jones was absent from the meeting.

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