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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

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PORTER/28inches/with map, photo /1stjc/mark2nd DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter PORTER RANCH Welcome to the ’90s better late than never. That’s the message developers of the new Porter Ranch project are trying to get across as they prepare to scale back commercial development for this 1,100-acre master-planned community. Originally, the idea was to build a 2-million-square-foot commercial complex with office buildings, retail stores, a hotel complex and a movie theater. Now, developers want to build just 660,000-square-feet of commercial space with none of the office development once envisioned and with reduced public improvements. “We’re moving forward on a smaller scale,” said Richard Mahan, spokesman for Porter Ranch Development Co., a partnership of Shapell Industries Inc. and Liberty Building Co., both based in Beverly Hills. “This isn’t the ’80s, but there’s still a real need out there for a center of this type for the people up there,” Mahan said. Developers say that the newly planned 660,000-square-foot Porter Ranch Towne Center which will likely include restaurants, a bookstore, a hardware store, a coffee house and an upscale supermarket will be a much-needed addition to an under-served area. But local homeowners say that the new version of the shopping center is just a way to avoid making promised improvements to the area, to build a less attractive shopping center than pledged, and to sneak less desirable, big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot into the community. “This is not pretty. This is a huge parking lot with stores at the back of it,” said Walter N. Prince, chairman of the planning and land use committee for PRIDE, a Porter Ranch homeowners group. The scaled-back plan, approved by the Los Angeles Planning Commission in late January, is expected to reach the City Council by the end of March. Developers say that a groundbreaking on the center likely would come within 60 days of council approval and construction would take 18 months. The shopping center planned for an empty site on Rinaldi Avenue between Corbin Street and Winnetka Avenue is designed to include more than 3,000 parking spaces and more than 50 stores and restaurants. Porter Ranch Development estimates that over 600 retail, service and professional jobs will be created by the center. Although no leases have been signed, Mahan said that developers are looking to attract stores like Barnes & Noble, Starbucks and a Gelson’s or Pavilions supermarket. Mahan said that because the current plan allows for large-square-footage stores, some homeowners figure that the company will build a Home Depot or a Wal-Mart. “A lot of people immediately assume there could be only one type of retail operator,” Mahan said, adding that an upscale supermarket like Gelson’s could occupy 90,000 to 100,000 square feet similar to the size of a big-box store. Mahan added that the shopping center is sorely needed in the largely residential Porter Ranch area. “Right now there’s only one little shopping center available to all the homes up there,” he said. But Prince whose group PRIDE was once known as “Porter Ranch Is Developed Enough” said that Porter Ranch Development’s plan is broad enough to allow for big-box stores and there is no guarantee the company won’t build them. “I’m sure they’re going to grab any guy who walks down the street, and that’s the big-box stores that can’t go in any place else in the Valley,” Prince said. Prince also said that when Porter Ranch Development scaled back the size of the development, they did away with the road and sewer improvements that were a part of the 1990 plan. “Just reducing (the size of the center) doesn’t solve all the ancillary problems,” he said. Despite concerns of Prince and other local homeowners, representatives of City Councilman Hal Bernson, whose district includes Porter Ranch, said that they have received only a handful of complaints. “Primarily, it’s been a misunderstanding. When we explain to them that it is a reduction, not a new project, most of them are satisfied,” said Greig Smith, chief deputy for Bernson. While Porter Ranch Development plans to down-size the commercial project, the developers still plan to build the original complement of 3,395 homes. An office complex, a hotel or a movie theater all pieces of the 1990 plan for the area could come later in an area adjacent to Porter Ranch Towne Center and the planned homes. “It doesn’t preclude that from being developed in one of the other commercial areas,” Mahan said. “If there’s a market for a hotel, we’ll build a hotel. If there’s a market for a regional theater, we’ll build a theater.” Porter Ranch was originally developed in the 1960s, and now consists of about 2,000 homes. Under a master plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council, the company plans to build an additional 2,195 single family homes and 1,200 multi-family homes over the next 20 years. Housing development, however, has been stalled for the past six years by the prolonged real estate recession, which hit the San Fernando Valley especially hard. The developer’s request for a reduction in the commercial component was the first sign in years of the company’s willingness to build. Mel Wilson, president of Mel Wilson & Associates, a division of Coldwell Banker, said that the development is one sign that the real estate market in Porter Ranch is picking up. Wilson explained that he has seen homes in the Porter Ranch area selling for more money and with more buyers showing interest. “It shows me that there is a high demand to live in the Porter Ranch area, and people really want to be there,” he said. Aside from any future homes in the area, Wilson said the building of the Porter Ranch Towne Center would at least be good news for the area’s existing residents. “Porter Ranch is a fairly affluent neighborhood, but for one to shop, you have to go down to the Northridge Fashion Center or into Granada Hills,” he said.

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