2016-10-13 / Community

Community park approved, but not without opposition

Lang Ranch promise to be fulfilled
By Becca Whitnall


INVENTED IN T. O.— Once complete, Sapwi Trails Park will have the city’s second disc golf course. The first is at Thousand Oaks Community Park. 
ACORN FILE PHOTO INVENTED IN T. O.— Once complete, Sapwi Trails Park will have the city’s second disc golf course. The first is at Thousand Oaks Community Park. ACORN FILE PHOTO After three hours of discussion—not to mention decades of public input, planning and court proceedings—Conejo Recreation and Park District has approval to develop a community park in Lang Ranch.

In a 5-0 vote Monday, the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission approved design guidelines for Sapwi Trails, the only remaining undeveloped community park in the city’s master plan. The 145-acre site bordered by Erbes Road, Westlake Boulevard and Avenida de Los Arboles was first envisioned as a recreational area in the late 1960s after the 2,585-acre Lang Ranch property was annexed into the city.

“It’s been almost 40 years since (real estate tycoon) Donald Bren promised us a park abutting our tract,” Lang Ranch resident Joseph Dodda said during the Oct. 10 hearing. “I hope it comes to fruition soon.”

Sapwi, named for an ancient Chumash village, will be unlike any park in the CRPD system. For starters, 128 acres will be left undisturbed, with the bulk of construction happening around the edges to provide parking lots, restrooms and playgrounds.

Features planned within the park include extensive running trails, a bicycle skills track, a nonmotorized glider plane area, a disc golf course and an outdoor classroom with amphitheater.

“What I like most of all is it’s going to have the nontraditional activities,” Planning Commissioner Sharon McMahon said. “We have a lot of parks that have soccer and baseball and basketball . . . but this is a park that’s kind of going to teach the community new things.”

CRPD Administrator Tom Hare told the commission the goal was to leave much of the area in its natural state, as requested by neighbors who already access the open space regularly.

“There’s not a lot of stripping things bare and moving dirt,” Hare said. “There’s just not a lot of construction or grading . . . that’s going to be heavy on existing native species.”

Public comment

Of the 17 public speakers to address the matter at Monday’s meeting, the majority were in favor of the plans, which will require the removal of one protected oak tree.

Many were leaders of organizations that plan to use the scenic grounds: coaches from the Newbury Park High School mountain biking team and the Thousand Oaks High School cross country team, the president of the Thousand Oaks Soaring Society and local disc golfers.

Not everyone at the hearing was there to champion the new park.

Lang Ranch resident John Calleran, who said he’d followed the park’s progress for years, voiced his concern that the district’s limited development could lead to more down the road.

“I’m not negative on this proposal, I want you to understand that, but there are some things I’d like to make sure of,” he said. “I don’t want to see the drip, drip, drip of more development after this is approved.”

Later, when questioned by commissioners, Hare said the park district had no plans to further develop the area.

Four speakers said they were outright opposed to the project, citing traffic safety issues, impact on wildlife and use of the park by nonresidents.

“To me, progress means leaving some things the way they are; not everything has to be concrete bathrooms,” said Patti Peairs, who lives in the Brock Collection neighborhood north of the park area.

“I think it’s a terrible thing to do to a community that used to really prize its open space,” she said.

Several who gave comment referenced the park district’s previous plans for the property, which called for baseball diamonds, athletic fields, lights and large parking lots, to remind opponents how far they’d come in reducing the impact of the project.

That plan was scrapped in 2012 after a study revealed the land sat atop an ancient landslide and would require millions of dollars to safely stabilize for such a high-impact development.

Unanimous

In moving to approve the proposal, Commissioner Doug Nickles said he’d been familiar with the original plans and prefers the new ones, which will leave the property appearing as open space despite being defined as a park.

“I’m pleased with how things have evolved over time,” Nickles said. “ It’s like you can almost imagine cattle still roaming the hillsides out there, and I don’t think too much of that is going to change with what’s being proposed.”

Next, CRPD will start developing construction documents, taking into consideration concerns voiced at the meeting, Hare told the Acorn.

The park administrator said CRPD would like to put the project out to bid in the next six to seven months and begin construction by the end of 2017.

In the meantime, the district will work with the disc golf and glider organizations to see what work they can get done in-house and via volunteers.

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