2006-06-22 / Front Page

City okays Agoura Village plan

'They are allowed to build,' one council member says
By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

The Agoura Hills City Council has unanimously approved the Agoura Village Specific Plan, a long-range planning document that sets the stage for development of an eclectic town center south of the 101 Freeway.

Despite the city's favorable vote, residents came out in numbers to protest the development.

Issues of increased traffic, pedestrian safety, a proposed traffic roundabout, damage to the environment and the possibility of 45foot-high businesses and residential units have many residents worried. Council members tried to quell their concerns by putting the plan under further scrutiny.

Supporters hope the proposed 135-acre mixed use development near Kanan, Agoura and Cornell roads will offer a unique alternative to the traditional shopping mall-as-town-center approach to urban planning.

According to city officials, Agoura Village is intended to be developed over time and will incorporate a variety of entertainment venues, retail shops, restaurants, office space and residential living, including small loft units above businesses.

The village will be linked with park trails and there's even a plan for an equestrian center. In one scenario, the Zuma Ridge trail would be linked to the existing equestrian trail on Agoura Road.

The 580,000 square feet of retail space allowed by the village would only be a little over half of what the city's current General Plan allows.

"This is a planning document; (it) restricts development," Councilmember Dan Kuperberg said. "People own the property and they are allowed to build."

Still, many residents at the meeting were concerned about the impact of 293 residential units. Mike Kamino, Agoura Hills' director of planning and community development, said the city is legally obligated to build affordable housing in the part of the village slated as a redevelopment zone.

Opponents also complained about what they call a loophole allowing developers an extra 10 feet in height on their buildings if they provide a "bonus" to the city. For instance, if a developer offers to build horse trails, restore creeks, provide trolleys to Agoura Village or donate public art to the city, their project could be up to 10 feet higher than the normal 35-foot building limit.

Agoura Hills resident Pat MacGregor said she fears that many developers will take advanage of the 45-foot building option.

"The intention was to go up, not out," said Erik Justesen of RRM Design Group.

Traffic jam

Mary Wiesbrock of Save Open Space President Mary Wiesbrock said the plan would increase traffic by 17,593 car trips per day. She called for the build-out to be reduced by one-third.

Councilmember Bill Koehler pointed out that the General Plan allows the same number of new car trips per day as Agoura Village.

Councilmember John Edelston said the city is moving away from a "hodge podge" type of development with the new plan, but he was concerned about parking.

Malibou Lake resident Beatrice Tesdolpf worried about how the development would affect evacuation during an emergency.

"With 17,000 more cars, how are we going to be able to escape?" Tesdolpf asked.

Joan Yacovone, former Mayor of Agoura Hills, called for a decrease in the density of the project, and didn't believe that the proposed roundabout, or traffic circle, was safe for pedestrians.

Agoura resident Steve Hess asked the city council to pause and "take a breath."

"You can do a good job on this-it's just not ready yet," Hess said.

Councilmember Harry Schwarz said all of the public comments are being "taken to heart."

Protecting business

"Obviously the city has been in desperate need for a town center for some time," said Louis Masry, president of the Agoura/Oak Park/ Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. Masry said the Chamber

mainly wants the development's retail element to be unique. To protect the area's business community, he prefers fewer chain stores.

Masry also said the Chamber doesn't like the idea of a sound wall near Roadside Drive since it would affect views from the freeway.

Masry called for free parking in the village. And he hopes the village will provide an opportunity to address facade changes on businesses located elsewhere of the city.

He believes the city's decision on Agoura Village opens the door for other developments where traffic has been a concern.

Mayor Denis Weber said that although the city is taking a risk with such an ambitious project, he believes the finished product will be "well worth it."

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