Two years after a Thousand Oaks City Council vote in favor of converting the Rancho Potrero open space in Newbury Park sparked heated debate among residents, the city is now following through on its decision to develop plans for the 326-acre site.

At a meeting July 2, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA) invited public input regarding the Rancho Potrero Conceptual Plan, the plan would open up the land for more recreational use.

The meeting was intended to help a focus group refine ideas for the publicly owned property in order for city officials to shape a specific plan later this year, said Shelly Austin, associate planner for COSCA.

Perched on the south side of Lynn Road, the property sits in the southwest corner of the Conejo Valley. The area is bordered on the east by the National Park Service’s Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center. It includes grasslands, coastal sage scrub and steep slopes that form part of the Sycamore Canyon drainage system and offer scenic views.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge to balance the protection of natural resources with the appropriate level of public use,” said Melanie Beck, an outdoor recreation planner for the National Park Service and a member of the focus group.

The city of Thousand Oaks and the Conejo Recreation and Park District purchased Rancho Potrero together in 1993. The city put up $1 million and the park district paid $1.9 million. COSCA, their joint powers agency, owns and manages the site.

In 2005 the City Council approved the conceptual plan and committed $450,000 over a four-year period beginning in 2007 toward capital improvements.

“We want to get people to the open space,” said Tom Hare, administrator of parks and planning for the park district. “It’s a beautiful place. We’d like to get the public there.”

The conceptual plan outlines approximately 7 to10 acres for picnic areas and about 300 acres for open space, which includes new and existing hiking trails and horse trails, Hare said.

Additionally, a 2005 memorandum issued by the city and the park district said the conceptual plan includes the construction of parking for buses, disabled access and a covered picnic area that holds 200 people.

But many residents are perplexed and frustrated by the plan to put parking lots and picnic facilities on the property.

“A lot of people brought up at the meeting that we already have lots of places like that,” said Marilee Ullmann a member of the local equestrian community.

“We need a passive, undeveloped, serene and natural environment,” Ullmann said. “Not one that’s going to bring in 200 people and busloads of children.”

The next focus group meeting is scheduled for July 16.

After the specific plan is drafted, environmental impact assessments and cost estimates will need to be done, Austin said.

The specific plan will ultimately head to the city planning commission and City Council.

The goal is to maintain open space while at the same time to make that open space more publicly accessible, Hare said.