By Annabelte Blair Staff Writer
After 15 years of decline, development at the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf in the Channel Islands Harbor is once again ready to set sail.
But while Ventura County officials and harbor management are pushing for a 390 unit apartment complex, residents and community groups aren’t biting.
“We want Fisherman’s Wharf revitalized but with the right development, one designed clearly for visitor-serving and harbor-related uses and with genuine public access as the priority,” said Rene Aiu, a member of neighborhood group Harbor & Beach Community Alliance.
There’s a general agreement that new development is needed to spruce up the now-rotting wooden structures at Fisherman’s Wharf. But the details are under debate.
The current proposal by developer Channel Islands Harbor Properties includes a 55-foot-high gated apartment complex and a redevelopment of the re-tail center, lighthouse and adjacent park. It allows for a waterfront promenade and walkway for visitors, but opposition groups said it doesn’t provide adequate walking and biking trails and visitor facilities for coastal access.
“That’s got to be the priority for a public harbor,” Aiu said of public access. “Otherwise all the harbors are going to be just for the privileged few.”
At an April 22 community workshop held by the city, Channel Islands Harbor Properties presented its plan and community members shared their concerns in a meeting that stretched on for over three hours. These included blocked views, impacts to traffic along Victoria Avenue and significantly reduced free parking near the harbor for both cars and RVs.
One participant stated that without adequate parking, genuine coastal access doesn’t truly exist.
“Am I invisible?” asked a woman who lives down the street from the pro-posed development in a home she said her family purchased with their life savings. “My neighborhood is now going to be your overflow parking area,” she said to developers.
The retail strip alongside Channel Is-lands Boulevard, which was developed by the late Martin “Bud” Smith in the ’70s, fronts the harbor. It constitutes about 48,000 square feet on a 6.3 acre parcel of county-owned property.
This proposal is the third the property has· seer/ since 2004.’ Others fell through due to the financial uncertainty surrounding the Great Recession and conflict between officials from the county and city of Oxnard, said Harbor Director Mark Sandoval at the April 22 workshop.
Although the land isn’t zoned for residential, Sandoval said that getting a developer to develop the site without a residential project isn’t going to happen.
“I believe that if we don’t have residential, we will not have a development,” Sandoval said at the meeting. He acknowledged the traffic concern but said the project’s benefit a revitalized wharf with public access along the waterfront -far outweighs the draw-back.
The project has been approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, and is on its way to the city of Oxnard’s planning commission. It would also re-quire approval by the state Coastal Com-mission and an amendment to the Local Coastal Plan.
“The challenge that we have here in developing the harbor is we’re about six miles off Highway 101, our closest major artery,” Sandoval told the Business Times in a phone interview. “You’ve got to want to come to Channel Islands to get here.”
The Ventura Harbor was also developed ‘in the ’70s and has ongoing development opportunities as well as a residential project under construction. “We have very healthy cash reserves to make improvements in the harbor to-day,” said General Manager Oscar Pena, who recently announced his retirement after 20 years. Pena took the helm in steering the harbor out of serious financial straits after the Great Recession. The Ventura Harbor Portside project, a nearly 300-unit apartment complex on the waterfront, includes 20,000 square feet of retail space and a small marina. While it’s slated to open in the first quarter of 2020, development proposals started as early as 2002, and permits weren’t granted until 2016, he said. “Everybody sort of teases me that it’s taken the better half of my career to start and come to fruition with this project,” Pena joked. But he said amending the lo-cal coastal plan allowed for residential units on the ground floor, which gave developers incentive to build. Today, the port has an annual revenue of $9 million and an operating budget of about $7 million. Pena said it’s one of the few harbors that hosts both commercial fishing and recreational use.
The port is also embarking on a $4.6 million project that will replace about 40 percent of slips in the marina to make room for more commercial fishing vessels. An entitlement for an aquaculture farm a few miles off the coastline is also seeking approvals.
For the CI-Harbor, the Fisherman’s Wharf development isn’t the only project afoot. It’s also slated for a new a four-story Hyatt House hotel, with up to 300 rooms and an adjacent restaurant on Peninsula Road. This will replace Casa Sirena Hotel and Lobster Trap restaurant, which have been closed for about six years Demolition is anticipated in two months and completion around the end of 2021, Sandoval said.
On the same tip of the harbor peninsula, the marina will be rebuilt, and the armor rock used to protect the harbor will be replaced as projects are developed.
Another development in the works en-tails the gutting of an existing structure that once housed Whale’s Tail Restaurant off of Harbor Boulevard. The current proposal is to install Mediterranean restaurant Fresco in its place. Community members want the county to explore other development options instead of insisting on residential units, but Sandoval said he hopes the harbor won’t have to keep throwing money at the property while development is pending.
“It is touted as the way to revitalize a harbor area that was shamefully not maintained by its owner, the county,” Aiu wrote in a note to the Business Times. “Now the public is expected to simply accept this development as the only way to revitalize the deteriorated Fisherman’s Wharf.”
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