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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Project Roils City Residents

An Aliso Viejo builder is taking a second stab at large-scale development in Calabasas. But this time, the community appears not as gung-ho. New Home Co. submitted an application last month for its Canyon Oaks project, a gated community of 141 single-family homes, nine low-income condos and a four-story hotel on 77 acres near Las Virgenes and Agoura roads. Between the land acquisition cost, grading and other preparation work, and building the homes, the developer estimates the total cost to be near $100 million. “It’s a very costly piece of dirt to develop,” said Rick Bianchi, vice president and regional manager for New Home, which has built developments statewide. “But it is a beautiful piece of land and people will want to live here.” The developer, which went public Jan. 31 in an $86 million initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, has seen some recent success in Calabasas. Just last month, the company began tearing down the decades-old Calabasas Inn to build a 220,468-square-foot mixed-use development geared toward empty nesters. And a few miles north in Thousand Oaks, New Home is in the process of grading land to build 20 upscale homes on large lots that will likely run well more than $1 million each. Both projects sailed through the entitlement process, garnering little pushback from the community. The Canyon Oaks development may not go as smoothly, largely because of the proposed hotel, which would be the first upscale offering on the city’s east side, with only a nearby Good Night Inn as competition. “This will have a major impact on quality of life for homeowners,” said Kim Lamorie, president of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation. “We believe this development is inconsistent with the vision of the area.” ‘Unique site’ The Canyon Oaks site is in a low, sloping valley surrounded by ridgelines just south of the Ventura (101) Freeway on the city’s eastern side, which has a far more rural feel and lacks the former pro athletes and celebrity residents on the west side. Nearby is a community built in 2007 by Shea Homes, a unit of J.F Shea Co. Inc. of Walnut called The Colony. The city’s General Plan envisions the Canyon Oaks site for up to 180 multifamily units and a mix of residential, retail, restaurant, office and parking garages on less than one-third of the site, with the remainder left as open space. It is the only site in the city designed as PD, or Planned Development. “It’s a very unique site and has been zoned for development since the ’80s,” said Senior Planner Talyn Mirzakhanian. The previous land owner submitted plans in 2011 that included a 21,400-square-foot shopping center, 75 single-family homes, 75 multifamily units and eight senior affordable housing units. About 54 acres was set aside for open space. But shortly after the preparation of an environmental impact report and before any approvals were received from the city, owner Arnel Commercial Properties of Costa Mesa sold the land to New Home in late 2012 for $10.5 million. The latest proposal would leave one more acre of open space, leaving the ridgeline and much of the hills untouched. The single-family homes will sit on lots of about 3,000 square feet in two floor plans. One plan is about 1,900 square feet, including three bedrooms and a two car garage. The other is 2,500 square feet with four bedrooms and a two car garage. Pricing has not yet been disclosed, but the developer said it will be competitive. Homes at the nearby Colony go for about $950,000, according to residential listing website Trulia Inc. “What (New Home) submitted is less dense than what is actually allowed,” Mirzakhanian said. “But we just started reviewing this, so it’s way too early to know what the Council or the community will think.” However, a clear point of contention is the hotel, which would have 140 rooms on the northwest corner of the property, adjacent to a gas station and close to Las Virgenes Road. Bianchi said the hotel will likely be built by an outside corporate flag. He said there have been discussions with several operators, but wouldn’t disclose any specifics. The city has three notable hotels: the Good Night Inn, a Hilton Garden Inn and The Anza Hotel, a boutique located on the west side of town near the Commons at Calabasas shopping center. The hotel was previously a Country Inn & Suites, but finished a major transformation last summer. “We don’t see a market for another boutique, but a hotel makes sense for this property and the city’s revenue needs,” Bianchi at New Home said. Bed tax revenue for Calabasas in 2012 was $1.2 million, accounting for about 6 percent of total revenue, according to a city report. What’s more, the city has had discussions about raising the bed tax to 14 percent, from its current rate of 12 percent, though there has been no formal proposal. With such large companies as Thousand Oaks biotech giant Amgen Inc., health insurer Wellpoint Inc. in Thousand Oaks and casual dining chain Cheesecake Factory Inc. of Calabasas nearby, it’s not likely raising the tax would impact occupancy rates. However, Lamorie from the Homeowners Federation isn’t sure the city needs it. She said her group will likely attend city meetings to lobby against the development as the process gets going. “People moved here because they liked the mountains and the open space. They care about the friendly rural feel and don’t want to see that change,” she said. “And it’s a wealthy city already. We don’t need to do this for the money.” City revenue But Maureen Tamuri, the city’s community development director, said it’s shortsighted for residents to think that Calabasas isn’t in need of additional revenue streams. “The way the city primarily gets revenue is from sales tax, commercial properties and utilities. If we give up on any piece of commercial property, we reduce sales tax possibilities and it can disrupt the long-term finances of the city,” she said. However, even some residents with connections to the city aren’t so sure. Martha Fritz, a 12-year resident and former planning commissioner now on the city’s Public Safety Commission, thinks the proposal will meet stiff resistance. “The New Home proposal is actually trying to respond better to what people want for housing,” she said. “But I don’t think what they currently have designed will fly. I’ve never met anyone that wants to bring a four-story building to the east side of town.” Meanwhile, New Home has been working on the project for about 10 months, conducting focus groups and door-to-door visits with local homeowners. The project will take years to come to fruition, with Bianchi hoping to work through the environmental impact process this summer and get the green light from the city sometime near the end of the year. Then grading could begin, followed by construction. In a best-case scenario, Bianchi said, the first homeowners could move in by the summer of 2016. Bianchi called the process of getting entitlements for Canyon Oaks “anything but light,” joking about how difficult development processes in nicer areas can be. “If everyone wanted to develop in Bakersfield, it wouldn’t be a problem. Anywhere that’s worth building, it’s hard to get permission. But we’re just at the starting line – in the blocks really,” said Bianchi, who lives nearby in the upscale Oak Park neighborhood of Agoura Hills, where he has his office. “This is an A market location with excellent schools and a strong community. We expect this development to attract a lot of families wanting the elegance of a gated community in Calabasas.”

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