Busy, Busier, Busiest: Twelve 3 to 5 story apartment buildings proposed for Hwy. 101 and Johnson Dr.

By Nina Danza

The intersection of Hwy 101 and Johnson Drive is about to get very busy. Probably about 305 new apartments in 12 new three-to-five story buildings, and a lot of new auto trips busy. These consequences are the result of a proposed project at the now vacant lot on the corner of N. Bank Dr. and Johnson Drive (across from Carl’s Jr). The proposal will be discussed at a joint Ventura City Council/Ventura Planning Commission meeting on May 20, 2015, at 6pm in Ventura City Hall.

Though the city planning staff report states the discussion is strictly a “prescreen process [that] authorizes no development of any kind” the builder submittal is extremely detailed and suggests a high density future of residential and commercial activities in this area. Enough is known about the project that the planning staff report goes so far as to state they “anticipate the preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration.”

Current conditions and future conceptual building elevation as provided by the project proponent

Current conditions and future conceptual building elevation as provided by the project proponent

“Increased residential population is not necessarily a drawback,” observes Nina Danza, Ventura Sierra Club representative, “the harm comes in plunking down 750 people, pets and pavement immediately adjacent to the Santa Clara River, a vital natural resource being stewarded by The Nature Conservancy at this time.” The project abuts Harmon Barranca which joins the Santa Clara River within a hundred feet or so downstream. That stretch of the River is owned by The Nature Conservancy and is earmarked to become part of the Santa Clara River Parkway, a future public asset. Any and all urban drainage, trash and disturbances from the large building project will show up immediately in the River. The pollution will damage the riparian (stream-side) plant habitat, of which only 3-5% remain in California, and decimate animal species. “Just this past year, the USFW thinks the endangered least Bell’s vireo bird recovery may have been achieved in the Santa Clara River in this area thanks to Nature Conservancy efforts,” explained Danza, “but this building project is a step backward for that progress.”

Site plan provided by the project proponent

Site plan provided by the project proponent

The Ventura Sierra Club would like a better urban-nature interface built into the project. Instead of a design which turns its back to the River, Danza will make suggestions to the City Council and Planning Commission that the project include some River amenities consistent with The Santa Clara River Parkway. How about an amphitheater usable for a variety of programs such as natural resources education or outdoor cultural events? How about a set of kiosks along the urban-nature interface? With the right vision, the City could include some eco-oriented commercial spaces, such as a bike path-adjacent service or refreshment stand (a la ‘Frogtown’ which was held on the LA River this past year).

Keep up to date on this and all issues Santa Clara River related at www.facebook.com/SantaClaraRiverConfluence

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Nina Danza represents Ventura Sierra Club and is a licensed civil engineer specializing in stormwater issues.

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