Thursday, May 10, 2007

Agoura Hills will reconsider EIR for commercial project

Agoura Hills officials say they won't appeal a Superior Court judge's recent decision requiring the city to set aside key documents necessary for the development of an ambitious retail and commercial project called Agoura Village.

Instead, the City Council tonight will be asked to decertify the environmental impact report for the proposed development and revoke its previous approval of the Agoura Village Specific Plan, which laid out a vision for the 135-acre project area near Agoura and Kanan roads.

"We're going to comply with the decision," City Attorney Craig Steele said.

The council will also be asked to approve a consulting contract, not to exceed $55,000, to complete the biological plant and animal study deemed necessary by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.

In his April 20 decision, Chalfant found that the city's environmental impact report fell short of analyzing the site in sufficient detail and relied on outdated sources for the information that was included.

"The city's failure lies primarily in a lack of biological surveys," Chalfant wrote. "Knowledge of the regional biological setting is critical to the EIR's assessment, and special emphasis was required for sensitive plants and wildlife.

"While the EIR need not perform an environmental analysis of specific developmental projects, it must describe the environmental setting in sufficient detail to appraise readers of the nature of the environmental resources affected by the project."

The suit against Agoura Hills was filed by Mary Altmann, who lives in the unincorporated area of Lakeside, near Malibou Lake in the Santa Monica Mountains south of Agoura Hills.

Altmann, who represented herself, said she was pleased with the judge's decision, although she wished it had gone further.

"I thought it was a conservative ruling," she said. "I was hoping to be affirmed on some other points. I am very happy with what I did win."

Agoura Village, envisioned as a pedestrian-friendly, vibrant development with multifamily housing and shops, has been in the works for nearly a decade.

Altmann said she was moved to file the suit because she felt that not only were the documents required for the development deficient, but she also worried about the effects it would have on the area's safety.

"It's a very high fire area," Altmann said. "I feel they are just choking this area with traffic. On beach days, if there is a fire, we can't get out to the 101 (freeway) and they didn't address these issues."

The project is divided into three areas. Applications have been filed for two of the areas. Both applications are in the concept review stage, Agoura Hills Senior Planner Allison Cook said.

The Agoura Village issue will be heard by the council at a special meeting tonight at 6:30 at the Civic Center, 30001 Ladyface Court.

Judge rules further study needed for Agoura Village

Judge rules further study needed for Agoura Village
Environmental report inadequate
By Stephanie Bertholdo

A 135-acre swath just south of the 101 Freeway at Agoura Road is poised to one day become Agoura Village, a new commercial and residential town center, but city officials hit a snag in their development plans following a court order for additional environmental studies.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled April 20 that the city of Agoura Hills must prepare biological plant and animal surveys to address the environmental impact of the project.
Agoura Village is envisioned by city officials as a pedestrian-friendly town center with a mix of retail, residential and commercial businesses.
Chalfant's ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by Malibou Lakeside resident Mary Altmann.
Altmann's suit alleged the Agoura Village Specific Plan, a planning document that outlines the city's vision of Agoura Village, violates seven laws and codes from an inadequate Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
The lawsuit sought to stop or delay the Agoura Village plan based on several allegations. It cites CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and municipal code violations, failure to identify safety issues and alternatives to the project, misrepresentation of the project's size, and inadequate mitigation measures.
The court commanded the city to "set aside its approval of the Agoura Village Specific Plan, the EIR, and the zoning amendment."
The city is required to prepare an environmental review that includes "timely biological data, support replanting through appropriate expert evidence, and provide a more complete discussion of why a reduced specific plan alternative does not meet project objectives."
According to Altmann, "Originally Agoura Village had been intended to be an environmentally friendly mixed-use development showcasing this pristine area as the 'gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains.'"
Due to its size and potential threat to open space and the environment, she called the project "controversial."
Altmann, who filed her suit last July, founded a group called Citizens for Sensitive Development to challenge the plan, but when legal costs skyrocketed, she conducted her own research and filed the lawsuit on her own. Had she been unsuccessful, the court could have required her to bear the burden of the city's attorney fees, she said.
"Although we are disappointed that the judge found a deficiency in the biological studies and some related text in the EIR, we were gratified that Judge Chalfant denied every other challenge brought by Ms. Altmann," city attorney Craig Steele said.
"He flatly disposed of every claim regarding General Plan consistency and other land use issues, he found that the city had accurately and completely defined the scope of the AVSP (Agoura Village Specific Plan), he denied challenges to the city's notice procedures, he saw through false claims about redesignation of open space and, significantly . . . he stated that 'in all other respects, the EIR is adequate,'" Steele said.
City officials believe detailed biological studies should be done on a project-by-project basis.
The "AVSP does not approve any development project," Steele said. "We respectfully disagree with Judge Chalfant's position that such detail is required or even informative now, at the broad planning stage. Nonetheless, we anticipate that the city will comply with the judge's order."
The cost of the biological study could be in the "tens of thousands of dollars," Steele said. "The unfortunate and unnecessary impact of Ms. Altmann's lawsuit is that the city's taxpayers will foot the bill for the detailed biological study initially, instead of the future developers who actually could create the potential biological impacts down the road."
"I am thankful for our justice system, and that justice prevailed in this case," Altmann said.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Citizen wins CEQA Lawsuit against City of Agoura Hills

News Release – For Immediate Release
April 22, 2007
Contact: Mary Altmann (818) 667-3590 for questions or copy of ruling
City of Agoura Hills (818) 597-7300

Citizen wins CEQA Lawsuit against City of Agoura Hills

Friday, April 20th, at 3:38 pm California Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant issued a Writ of Mandate commanding the City of Agoura Hills to set aside the City of Agoura Hill’s approval of the Agoura Village Specific Plan, the environmental impact report, and the zoning amendment. If the City plans to go forward with the project, “the City must prepare biological plant and animal surveys in order to properly address the environmental impact” (page 17 of 26 page ruling). The City will also need “expert support for replanting of sensitive plant species as proper mitigation” (page 21 of ruling). The City also needs to have more complete discussions of alternatives to the project (page 26 of ruling).
“Agoura Village” is a controversial project of 135 acres encompassing a portion of Ladyface Mountain near the corner of Kanan and Agoura Road near the 101 freeway. The City planned to put a round-about on the corner of Kanan and Agoura Roads, up to 293 residential units with no limit of square footage, and about 950,000 square feet of new and redeveloped commercial development. Originally “Agoura Village” had been intended to be environmentally friendly mixed-use development showcasing this pristine area as the “Gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains.”
Mary Altmann, a concerned citizen, filed a lawsuit pro-per July 2006 opposing the Agoura Village Plan. She founded a group called “Citizens for Sensitive Development” in 2006 to challenge the development. Cost estimates from experienced attorneys to file the lawsuit challenging a program EIR were astronomical, so she studied, researched, and filed her own lawsuit, representing herself challenging the City. If unsuccessful, the court could have required her to bear the burden of the City’s attorney’s fees.
“I am thankful for our justice system, and that justice prevailed in this case. I am aware of other improprieties of the City of Agoura not following the California Environmental Quality Act, and am happy they will be commanded to follow the law this time” stated Ms. Altmann.
- MA-

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Agoura Village plan taken to court

Opponents of Agoura Village will have their day in court tomorrow at 10 a.m. when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant hears their case against the proposed commercial development in Agoura Hills.
The City Council approved the 135-acre mixed-use project located near Kanan, Agoura and Cornell roads in June 2006. The plan calls for a diverse mix of retail shops, restaurants, commercial businesses and housing in what city officials hope will be a "pedestrian friendly" town center.
Malibou Lakeside resident Mary Altmann filed suit against the city and will represent herself at today's Los Angeles Superior Court hearing. She formed Citizens for Sensitive Development, and the grassroots effort inspired more than 250 residents to sign a petition lending support to the opposition.
Altmann's lawsuit challenges the city's certification of the project's environmental impact report, amendments to the Ladyface Specific Plan, monitoring and mitigation plans, and zoning ordinance changes made by the city. The suit lists seven reasons why the city should overhaul the Agoura Village Plan, citing safety concerns, especially fire evacuations of residents south of the 101 Freeway.
"The city of Agoura Hills misrepresented the size of the project, did not complete an up-to-date biologic survey on the site where endangered species are known to live, did not have adequate alternative analysis, (and) did not follow their General Plan," Altmann said in an e-mail to local residents to encourage their attendance at the hearing.
The city is "approving around 300 residences with no limit of square footage and about 1 million square feet of commercial development, three-story buildings in front of Ladyface Mountain--all on endangered habitat if this is not stopped," she said.
Altmann and others believe Agoura Village would violate the city's General Plan by doubling the size of allowable development. City officials contend the planning document cuts the new retail space in half.
"The city feels like it's done all of the necessary environmental work to make this the best specific plan possible," said Greg Ramirez, Agoura Hills' city manager. "What people need to understand is (the Agoura Village Plan) is not an entitlement but development guidelines," he said. Any proposed project must traverse the city's standard development process, including approval by the Agoura Hills planning commission, he said.
Howard Littman, a forensic architect based in Agoura Hills, said that along with the 950,000 square feet of retail space, Agoura Village's residential element is additional and has no cap on square footage. Littman said city officials did not calculate the square footage of existing businesses in the Agoura Village-zoned area, all of which will eventually be redeveloped.
Altmann said she hopes area residents will attend the hearing to lend support. "It is the only and most important thing you can do right now to stop this disastrous development," she said.
"I feel fairly confident about it," Altmann said in a subsequent interview. "I think (the city) broke some serious laws."
If Altmann does not prevail at the Fri., April 13 court hearing, she said, she plans to appeal the decision.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

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The Retail PageDecember 27, 2006 – Tucker Keeps Whizin Along Article Date: 12/27/06

Full Story: Tucker Investment Group has purchased Whizin Shopping Center, an 85k sf mixed-use open-air lifestyle center (okay, a really large strip center) in Agoura Hills. The property, located on 2.73 acres at 28912 Roadside Dr, adjacent to the 101 Fwy along Canwood St, traded for $26 mil ($306/sf). The Whizin Shopping Center is comprised of a collection of small specialty retailers and an indoor event venue, The Canyon Club. "The Whizin Center is located in the heart of the Agoura Village project, an area that the City of Agoura Hills has marked for revitalization and beautification. It is well-positioned for future integration into the Agoura Village Specific Plan as a community focal point," explained Michael Ross, Managing Director for Colliers Investment Services Group (CISG) and partner of the Ross-Cordova Investment Team. According to Fred Cordova, the City of Agoura Hills is a highly desirable market with strong demographics. "The Agoura Village Specific Plan is designed to create a welcoming pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that captures the character of Agoura Hills." Along with Ross and Cordova, John DeGrinis and Steve Nanino, also of Colliers International, represented the seller, the Whizin Foundation, in the transaction. Tucker Investment took care of its own negotiations in the deal. The Whizin Foundation, a support foundation at the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles, is devoted to efforts to building three pillars of the Jewish future, family, synagogue and community. Established in 1989, the Whizin Foundation began its work by sponsoring the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life, an academic institute devoted to research, training and dissemination in the emerging field of Jewish family education.