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Ventura land sale to homebuilder gives UC money for ag project

By   /   Friday, July 10th, 2015  /   Comments Off on Ventura land sale to homebuilder gives UC money for ag project

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A Santa Clarita-based homebuilder and developer has purchased a large chunk of agricultural land in the city of Ventura for $13.1 million.

The roughly 36-acre parcel located at the southeast corner of Saticoy Avenue and Telegraph Road was sold to Williams Homes — the top bidder for the land — and comes with entitlements to build a new residential neighborhood.

The University of California Hansen Trust property development agreement was approved by the city of Ventura in November of 2008. The property was subsequently annexed into the city in 2009. In 2013, the development agreement was updated and amended by the Ventura City Council, and a development phasing plan and parcel map were approved.

Current plans outline 131 detached single family homes, approximately 34 attached townhome-style condos, six acres of public parks and open space and between 20 to 24 farmworker housing units.

Dyer Sheehan Group represented the university, both as its listing broker for the marketing and sale of the property and as its local project manager throughout the project design and entitlement permit approval process.

The sale of the University of California Hansen Trust property, which was gifted to and controlled by the university with the intention of being used for agricultural research since 1992, could also be the next step in an ambitious plan to create a new agricultural research and commercial center in Ormond Beach.

Last fall, the California State Coastal Conservancy delivered a presentation to the Oxnard City Council for an ambitious master planned development anchored by a University of California agricultural research and education center.

While the potential project has received some fanfare, it’s still conceptual and so far there is no official commitment from the UC. On top of that, most of the property is privately owned, and piecing together the necessary land could be a difficult years-long process on its own.

On top of that hypothetical effort, the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is going through a leadership change as current Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz is retiring from the role. The search for Allen-Diaz’s replacement is ongoing.

According to Chris Smith, director of the UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County & Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center, a new vice president will be tasked with setting a priority on the speculative project.

It’s Smith’s hope that the new vice president will lobby the UC Board of Regents, which has ultimate decision making power over how the proceeds from the land sale are spent, to put at least some of the funds toward a project feasibility study.

Smith, who helped develop the idea for a research facility after several talks with the Coastal Conservancy, recently made an updated pitch to the division’s leadership, framing the proposal as a new campus, and one that’s needed yesterday.

“Right now all we’re asking for is a feasibility study,” he said. “We want to find out who in the community would support it, what’s the scope and what private sectors partners would be interested in working with us.”

A feasibility study, he said, would help move the process forward.

“My goal is to meet the needs of growers and the natural resources community that’s so integral to the economy here, and right now we’re running out of space to do that,” he said.

The wetlands, Santa Monica mountains and the division of agricultural land at Ormond Beach all add up to the makings of a premier research site.

“It’s an ideal location,” Smith previously told the Business Times. “The current research facility is too small for large scale research projects, and with expansion of our small-medium research projects we’ll have utilized close to 100 percent of our useable acreage within the next 20 months, if not sooner.”

The goal of a new research center, in combination with the commercial aspect of the Ormond site, is to create a regional hub for agricultural and natural resources activities. Smith estimates the total cost to develop such a facility would be around $40 million.

Smith hopes that the UC Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources will make the decision to pursue a research extension center project feasibility study sometime this year.

“It’s good seed money and everyone knows in business money begets money,” Smith said. “It could give the university some stock to move forward and get others to come forward in the building of this center.”

• Contact Elijah Brumback at [email protected]

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