With a proposed large-scale development on the horizon in the Ventura Harbor, local officials and harbor shopkeepers have high hopes that the project will give way to a much-needed financial injection.
The development would be built on 20 acres adjacent to the harbor, on the last significant chunk of land in the Ventura Port District that can be used for development, said Oscar Peña, general manager for the district.
The project, as proposed by developer Sondermann Ring Partners of Marina del Rey, would include 300 apartment units, 20,000 square-feet of commercial space and more than 100 boat slips. Because the port district is forbidden by law to sell any of its land, the acreage would ultimately be leased to the developer for 50 years, after which the existing buildings could be used for other purposes. Peña said developing apartments at the site is the only viable residential construction because of the limitations applied to the lease.
“I encourage bringing more people down into this area, and I think it would be good for the harbor,” said Mary Hernandez, owner of a coffee and postal shop in the Ventura Harbor. “It’s a quiet harbor, and this would definitely bring more people.”
While Tuesday King, manager of Harbor Hatter, a hat shop, agrees that the development could bring more clientele to the area, she said the harbor has been in need of a major facelift for several years. “The harbor should have palm trees and upgrades that make it a real attraction — but they just don’t do anything down here,” said King, who said she believes the harbor won’t be a destination, even if the development is approved, until the surroundings are improved. King said she’d like to see better security, regulated shop hours and landscape additions.
“We just don’t have the foot traffic here,” King said. “If the apartments come, it will bring more people to the area, but we’ll just have to wait and see if it really makes any difference here. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
According to Peña, the matter of improving conditions at the harbor isn’t unlike the chicken-and-egg adage. The port district isn’t bringing in the revenue needed to make upgrades — and cannot borrow money to invest in the area until it can prove that it has increased revenue. It must rely heavily on real estate transactions and percentages taken from its business in the harbor, Peña said. The port district’s philosophy is that, if the development becomes reality, increased population in the area will lead to higher revenues and, eventually, the needed improvements.
“We’re a strong advocate for supporting business because, the better our tenants do, the better we do,” Peña said. “The only way to improve the conditions of the harbor is to embrace the development of the project.”
While the Ventura City Council recently approved a zoning change that would make the development possible, the project must receive final design approval from the city and must go before the California Coastal Commission.
Ventura City Councilman Neal Andrews, who began working on ways to expedite development at the site since he was first elected to the council in 2001, said the project has been a long time coming. Peña said various entities have attempted to develop projects in the area since the mid 1980s.
Andrews said that, if the project is given final approval, it will break ground in the next 18 months to two years. He added that the mixed-use project is of a new urbanist design and that its unique style is partly what “held it up” throughout the planning process.
“There will definitely be difficulties,” Andrews said of seeking approval form the coastal commission. “This is quite a different project from anything the commission has approved.”