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Neighbors' opposition to complex grows in Simi VC star Feb 2 18
Neighbors' opposition to complex grows in Simi
Ventura County Star (CA) - February 2, 2018
Mike Harris, Ventura County Star
Community opposition continues to grow to a developer's plan unveiled 18 months ago to tear down most of a Simi Valley shopping center and build a 278-unit, four-story apartment complex there.
Opponents argue that the proposed complex, which would include 83 affordable units and a remodeled commercial retail component, would be too dense and out-of-character for the Texas Tract and Kadota Fig residential neighborhoods near the heavily vacant Belwood shopping center at Alamo and Tapo streets.
A change.org petition to the Simi Valley City Council opposing the project has collected more than 1,300 signatures, although some could potentially be duplicates from signers using different names and email addresses. The petition was started by a grass-roots group called Citizens United for Responsible Building Simi Valley.
CURBSimi.com says it's made up of local residents and concerned citizens who "support the building of housing in character with our neighborhoods, and consistent with the guiding principles of our city's General Plan: 'Importantly, new development is sensitive in its design and is compatible in scale and character with its surroundings.'"
About 70 residents attended a Jan. 16 meeting held by the city at the police station to solicit written comments on potential environmental impacts of the project on the community. Many who attended were critical of the project.
One of them was Caren Pelinovschi, who has lived in the Texas Tract neighborhood of one-story homes for 30 years.
"I think the project is too big and too congested," she said one morning last week while walking her dog near the shopping center on the city's east side less than a mile from City Hall. "Too many people in one small area. It's way too urban. We're country. This is spread out, ranch-style houses. This is what Simi Valley is. That's not."
Pelinovschi noted that Neighborhood Council No. 3, a city advisory group that represents that section of Simi Valley, took the highly unusual step in May of recommending that the Simi Valley Planning Commission deny the project when it considers it later this year.
Given the "highly charged" nature of the project, the commission will likely merely make a recommendation about it to the City Council, which will ultimately approve or reject it, said Stratis Perros, Simi Valley's deputy director/city planner.
The developer, AMG & Associates, based in Encino, did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
But founder Alexis Gevorgian said in July that the density of the project is permitted under the city's general plan and state law. "I think there is a lot of overreaction, a lot of misinformation and a lot of speculation on what we are doing there," he said.
Gevorgian said his firm is "open to any of the changes the community wants as long as we don't lose any more units. We've already lost about 100 units" by lowering the proposed complex from five stories to four.
The complex would include affordable units because such housing is part of his firm's mission, he said.
"There's a huge demand for it," he said. "It's a crisis."
Proposed in August 2016, the project was scheduled to be considered by the Simi Valley Planning Commission last June, but the hearing was postponed while an environmental impact report is prepared. An initial city environmental assessment concluded the complex will not have the potential for a significant impact on the environment.
That conclusion did not sit well with project opponents. Thus, a more thorough environmental impact report is being prepared by a city consultant, Envicom in Westlake Village, and paid for by the developer. It should be finalized later this year when the project is expected to finally go before the Planning Commission, Perros said.
"Since it is such a controversial project, the applicant figured this was the better way to approach it," Perros said. "And I think the political powers that be – the City Council – were encouraging it, as well."
The developer proposes to tear down the shopping center on the 6.89-acre site except for an 8,100-square-foot portion that would be remodeled for commercial retail use, according to a city project overview.
In its place, a 185,408-square-foot, 278-unit, three-story apartment building on top of a ground level "podium parking" structure would be built on 5.87 acres, the overview stated.
Not all residents are necessarily against the project.
Janette Midstokke, who has lived in the neighborhood nearly her entire life, said she signed the petition opposing the project, but "thinking about it, I feel two ways. Don't really want an apartment building that close, but we really need affordable housing for people. I remember what it's like trying to get your first place."
Alison Enos, one of the founders of CURBSimi, said opposition to the project has "absolutely" grown since the group was formed in the summer.
"The reality is that nobody in Simi wants a project of this size and density," she said. While the environmental impact report is being prepared, "it's really our job to just make sure that everybody keeps the momentum going, doesn't forget, and is ready for that report to come out so we can figure out what our next step is."
Perros said the report will take six to nine months to complete. Work on it started in January.