2017-04-20 / Front Page

Local development continues at a breakneck pace

Environment compromised, critics say
SPECIAL REPORT
By Sylvie Belmond


BUILDING MOMENTUM—Above, workers build new office and industrial space at Canwood Street and Derry Avenue in Agoura Hills. The proximity of oak trees to construction—as in the Liberty Canyon office project below—has led to the objection of environmentalists. BUILDING MOMENTUM—Above, workers build new office and industrial space at Canwood Street and Derry Avenue in Agoura Hills. The proximity of oak trees to construction—as in the Liberty Canyon office project below—has led to the objection of environmentalists. Like it or not, urban growth has hit full stride along the 101 Freeway through Agoura Hills and Calabasas.

In addition to some half-a-dozen residential and commercial developments underway, others are in the planning stages.

Projects include a 78-unit Paxton townhome development on Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas and a new shopping center at the corner of Las Virgenes and Thousand Oaks Boulevard. In Agoura Hills, new retail and industrial buildings are being constructed on Canwood Street near Derry Avenue called Canwood Business Park.

Fred Gaines, a Calabasas City Council member and land use attorney, attributes the new construction to an uptick in the economy.


SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers “It doesn’t surprise me at all that people want to develop,” Gaines said.“The economy is positive. Exactly how positive, there is some debate, but generally there is growth and there are funds available at low interest rates so people are able to borrow money to do construction.”

Planned developments include the Rondell Oasis Hotel that was approved for a parcel near the 101 on- ramp on Las Virgenes Road; the Cornerstone homes, stores and office slated to be built on a hillside at the corner of Cornell and Agoura roads; and two new hotels and a fitness center that will occupy vacant lots tucked between the 101 Freeway and Agoura Road just west of Kanan Road.

Rising home values coupled with an affluent population and good schools make this a desirable area for builders, Gaines said. But while developers are pursuing their economic prospects, some residents are worried about the impact that the new construction will have on local quality of life.


HAMMERS AND NAILS—The illustration above shows where the new construction, either planned or underway, is located. Below, work proceeds on a commercial complex at Canwood and Derry in Agoura. 
Map by WEST MAATITA, photo by SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers HAMMERS AND NAILS—The illustration above shows where the new construction, either planned or underway, is located. Below, work proceeds on a commercial complex at Canwood and Derry in Agoura. Map by WEST MAATITA, photo by SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers Traffic congestion, large-scale hillside grading and diminished wildlife habitat are some of the top concerns.

“The only thing that causes dissension in the city is development,” Calabasas City Manager Tony Coroalles said.

What it all comes down to is balance, former Agoura Hills Mayor and retired state Sen. Fran Pavley said.

“Most people understand property rights, but it’s also important to make sure development is compatible with the land,” said Pavley, whose own Liberty Canyon neighborhood is the site of two new office building under construction.

“We have some strong ordinances in place and they need to be adhered to. Developers should use the natural beauty of the area as an asset instead of an obstacle,” Pavley said.

The Cornerstone mixed-use project planned for the southeast corner of Cornell and Agoura roads will encroach on a hillside that lies at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains.

“The knoll was supposed to be preserved with minimal grading,” Pavley said.

But Agoura Hills Mayor Denis Weber, who has often clashed with Pavley over the issue of development rights, said Cornerstone and the rest of the Agoura Village plan should be allowed to proceed without further delays.

“Development is the lifeblood of the city. We have waited so long to have something built in Agoura Village, and the residents including opponents were part of this plan,” Weber said.

“That project met all the criteria set by the city and it was approved. Yet some people still came out against it, which isn’t fair to the developer,” the mayor said.

Agoura Village involves several phases that will be built over time. Cornerstone is the first major installment. As the village comes to life, the city is faced with the challenge of meshing multiple plans.

“There are numerous property owners, yet the city wants to create complementary projects,” Agoura Hills Councilmember Linda Northrup said.

“That’s why the (Agoura Village) specific plan was created to give guidance and make sure projects are consistent with guiding principles of that plan,” Northrup said.

On Canwood Street near Derry Avenue, several light industrial buildings are under construction.

Meanwhile, Calabasas Canyon Oaks—a hotel and homes development that was defeated at the polls last November by fed-up voters—is also at a crossroads.

The Canyon Oaks developer will host a public workshop May 8 to unveil a revised project called West Village at Calabasas that calls for 180 residential units and retail space on 14 acres of a 77-acre site 4790 Las Virgenes Road. The new plan does not include a hotel.

John Suwara, a founding member of the Calabasas Coalition, which campaigned against Canyon Oaks, said it’s important for people both for and against new construction to attend the public hearings.

“I don’t mind the (infill) development in valleys and lower areas; however, when they go in and destroy the beautiful hillside that we have here, that to me is offensive,” Suwara said.

The Acorn has learned that the Canyon Oaks developer might agree to sell the land to a conservation group or other developer, if the price is right.

Some Calabasas residents are worried about the intense hillside grading in their city, a practice for which the Paxton townhomes on Las Virgenes Road came under fire. But even if developers meet all zoning guidelines, they still face many hurdles.

“The construction approval process is difficult and lengthy,” Weber said. “And what’s not fair is there is an element in all cities that is not concerned about private property rights. They have an agenda and they want to impose it on anything that’s built, making it difficult for developers to build and trying to run developers out of time and money. We see that all through the Conejo Valley.”

New retail construction can be risky because shopping centers only thrive if their tenants succeed.

“It’s hit or miss,” Gaines said.

With vacancies in existing office building persisting, construction for that type of project is slow. But some developers are still betting on a vibrant office market, such as the owner of the land at the corner of Liberty Canyon and Agoura roads where two new office buildings are being constructed. The Agoura Hills Planning Commission will host a public hearing tonight (April 20) to consider several new matters involving the Liberty Canyon site.

In Westlake Village, where commercial development is mostly complete, the only significant parcel available for building is the site of the former Westlake Hospital on Lakeview Canyon Road. A proposed senior housing development was previously rejected by the City Council. There no current plans to build on the property.

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