750-unit Ventura County resi plan moves into environmental approvals process

Hitch Ranch project in Moorpark gets draft report from city

Hitch Ranch proposed site (Hitch Ranch)
Hitch Ranch proposed site (Hitch Ranch)

A major Ventura County housing project could soon take a step forward after beginning the environmental approvals process.

The City of Moorpark, where the development would be located, published its Draft Environmental Impact Report on the project, known as Hitch Ranch, on February 18. A planning commission meeting over the proposed development is scheduled for next month, and the city is also accepting public comments.

The Hitch Ranch plan, from El Segundo-based developer Comstock Homes, includes more than 750 housing units on 277 acres. Moorpark’s 830-page draft impact report found numerous potential impacts, although it also recommended mitigation measures to counteract those effects.

Doug Spondello, the project planner for the city, did not immediately respond to an interview request. He has previously emphasized the large size of the site and thorough planning needed for approvals.

“You can imagine, with everything they want to do and develop on the site, we’re going to need a lot of plans, a lot of details and a lot of reports,” he told the Ventura County Star in 2019.

In Southern California, properties of Hitch Ranch’s size are increasingly rare, and often located farther inland, in exurban areas of Ventura County or the Inland Empire. The realization of such major projects is also complicated, especially as local authorities have grown increasingly concerned about environmental impacts and affordable housing concerns: In northern L.A. County, one 6,700-acre project, Centennial at Tejon Ranch, recently scored a victory when an environmental group agreed to drop its opposition after the developers committed to a net-zero carbon emissions plan.

Among the major impacts projected in the Hitch Ranch environmental report was a “substantial adverse effect” on the landscape — the development would go up on currently undeveloped rolling hills. To counteract the destruction, the report recommends hydro-mulching and planting fast-growing grasses, although it found that even with those measures the development’s impact would be significant.

The report also found potentially significant consequences related to light pollution, air quality and wildlife destruction, among many others, although in most cases it determined those impacts would not be significant after mitigation measures. Before any construction begins it calls for the approved relocation of “all western spadefoot, coastal western whiptail, coast horned lizard, and coast patch-nose snake” observed on the site by a biologist, for example.

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The development is slated to rise on what is currently a rural area of Moorpark, a city of some 36,000 that’s a few miles west of Simi Valley and approximately 50 miles northwest of Downtown Los Angeles. The ranch’s owners had been seeking to develop the site for 20 years, Spondello previously said.

Comstock Homes filed its initial plans with the city in 2019: In addition to 456 single family homes and 299 multi-family units, Comstock envisions a three-acre “green space, clubhouse and swimming facility” and over five acres of trails and parks on the site; it also promises various infrastructure improvements to the area, including street extensions, electric vehicle charging stations and equestrian trials.

In order to comply with local affordable housing requirements, Comstock has also proposed setting aside a nearly 7-acre parcel for future affordable development by the city.

In promotional materials the developer, which has built commercial and residential properties throughout California, leans heavily on the ranch’s scenic beauty and agricultural heritage: Archibald Hitch, the property’s namesake, and his family migrated from Tennessee in the early 1900s and farmed apricots and lemons on the site, according to the material. Renderings show neat clusters of houses surrounded by trees, as well as a children’s play area and bocce court.

Not everyone is happy about the proposed “Hitch Ranch 2.0,” however, including some Moorpark residents who don’t want to see undeveloped land turn into hundreds of housing units.

“This is high-density housing as far as I’m concerned,” one neighbor, who owns horses on her property, told the Star in 2019. “So you’re going from livestock friendly to high density.”

Harriet Rapista, the project applicant for Comstock, did not immediately respond to an interview request.

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