Former ranch to be site of gated community
Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, November 8, 2012
A 27-acre property once reserved for horses is the center of a dispute between neighbors who want to preserve the open space and developers who plan to build homes there.The unincorporated land at the northern tip of Upper Ranch Road, known as Miller Ranch, was purchased by Studio City-based KSK Investments about two years ago for $4.4 million. KSK has plans to build a gated community with 14 luxury homes, a proposal that doesn’t sit well with some living nearby.
“This is the last open space corridor in Thousand Oaks,” said Leo Orange, a North Ranch resident who’s gathered more than 200 signatures opposing the project.
“The community’s expectation has always been that Miller Ranch would remain open space. Several of the Upper Ranch Road property owners examined the land-use designation before buying, and the developer now seeks to change those expectations.”
The proposal, which was approved by the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission on Sept. 10, will be reviewed by the City Council at its Tues., Nov. 13 meeting, said Pam Leopold, a senior planner with the city.
Plans require that Thousand Oaks annex the parcel, an unincorporated island surrounded by city limits. Such has been the goal of local government for more than 30 years, said Joe Gibson, an environmental consultant for the developer.
“This area has been in the city’s General Plan since 1970, defined for housing development even though it’s in the county (jurisdiction),” Gibson said. “The city has always looked at this property for future annexation.”
Even if the council approves the project and its environmental impact report (EIR), which addresses the environmental effects of its construction, the Local Agency Formation Commission must still approve the annexation, Gibson said.
“Annexation could take six to nine months,” he said.
Miller Ranch was formerly owned by Patricia and Martin Miller, who acquired the property in 1966. Patricia Miller was a descendant of Andrew and Abigail Russell, who settled at the 6,000- acre Triunfo Ranch in what is now Westlake Village in 1881.
The Millers’ niece, Jane Russell Wooster, told the Acorn she supports development of her aunt and uncle’s former ranch.
“The people who are complaining moved onto land that was undeveloped, just like my aunt’s is now,” said Wooster, who lives in San Lucas, Calif. “At this point the best use is residential. I don’t think the property should just sit there and not be used.”The property was “bare dirt” when the Millers acquired it, said Wooster, who was a student at UCLA at the time. The Millers built a single-story home, horse stables and outbuildings. The house still exists today (see photo above). Wooster said her aunt loved to ride horses on the property.
By January 1973, the City of Thousand Oaks approved the annexation of North Ranch but did not include the Millers’ property. Development of North Ranch began in 1985.
In a letter provided to the planning commission at its Sept. 10 meeting, Wooster said that Patricia Miller never complained about all the homes that sprung up around the family’s ranch.
“People purchased property and built houses and secured for themselves a place to live and enjoy life,” Wooster said. “Not once did my aunt or anyone else in our family say, ‘Not in our backyard.’”
But some residents who live near Miller Ranch are saying just that.
Orange, who has lived on Upper Ranch Road for 19 years, said neighbors decided to buy and build homes in the area because of Miller Ranch’s county open space designation.
“The (construction) could disrupt our quality of life for seven to 10 years,” said Orange, who added that coyotes, bobcats, deer and mountain lions can be seen on the undisturbed land that stretches over mountains into Simi Valley. “We have plenty of homes that have been on the market for years.”
Some North Ranch residents have hired a lawyer to represent them in their cause.
Orange said he and other local residents were interested in purchasing the ranch to ensure it remained open space before it was sold to KSK Investments by the property’s heirs and the company submitted its building plans to the city.
“I was shocked that we were never told,” Orange said.
Neighbor Trudi Loh, who’s lived in the area for 23 years, called the developer’s proposal “absurd.”
“I don’t think the city should even entertain such a massive change. This doesn’t benefit anyone except private developers,” Loh said.
In a letter to the City Council, North Ranch residents Ana and Peter Sutton recalled buying and remodeling their dream home there a decade ago.
“We set our goals high in wanting to move to beautiful North Ranch, specifically Upper Ranch Road with its open space, reminding us of how it must have been 100 years ago,” they wrote.
Lennie Liston, of project developer LC Engineering Group in Thousand Oaks, said his group has met with local residents to address concerns such as dust and noise caused by construction.
Liston said the project’s infrastructure, which includes major construction grading, will be completed within four to six months to limit disturbances to neighbors.
While many of the developments in North Ranch are among steep hills, Miller Ranch has lower slopes that will allow for less intrusive grading, Gibson added.
Also proposed is a landscape buffer of at least 20 feet along the west side of the project, which borders three residences on Upper Ranch Road, a staff report said.
Over the years, Patricia Miller received many offers for her property, which she declined, Wooster said.
While Miller enjoyed living in open space, she would have supported the proposal to build homes on her land, her niece said.
“She wanted to live there until she died, and then she assumed that it would be developed like everything surrounding her,” Wooster said.
Orange is hoping for a different outcome for the property.
“It’s in the hands of our City Council. We’re hoping that they see it in the community’s favor,” he said.
Next week’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. inside council chambers at 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.