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Smaller Porter Ranch Plan Approved

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reflecting a major shift in the real estate market, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on Thursday approved a sharp downsizing of the proposed Porter Ranch development, cutting the commercial square footage in half and allowing for the construction of retail rather than office space.

“The market is just not there,” said Larry Calemine, a spokesman for Porter Ranch Development Co., explaining why it dropped its ambitious office building plans.

Dramatic shifts in the office market since 1990 made building such a massive office campus unwise, agreed Larry Kosmont, a real estate consultant.

“It was planned in the 1980s when the lending requirements were loose. What we’re seeing today is a much more realistic formula,” Kosmont said. “Retail is much more achievable.”

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In 1990, Porter Ranch Development Co. received Los Angeles City Council approval to build 6 million square feet of office space and 3,300 housing units on a 1,300-acre site in the hills north of the Ronald Reagan Freeway--the largest undeveloped property in the Valley.

But the poor economy in the early 1990s stalled the plans. On Thursday the city Planning Commission agreed to changes in the project. Although the developers still plan to build 3,300 housing units, the 6 million square feet of office space has been slashed to 3 million square feet of retail space.

The changes must also be approved by the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee and the Los Angeles City Council.

In 1990, the Porter Ranch proposal was strongly opposed by area residents, who feared their neighborhoods would be overrun by traffic. Few people have showed up at public hearings this time around as the developer has tried to change plans.

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Walter Prince, a longtime foe of the project, said that, despite its smaller size, the new project will still have major effects on traffic in the area. In addition, the older plan was much more detailed in terms of what the company planned to build, Prince said. The new plan gives the developers more freedom regarding what they may build and where.

“It’s a plan to have no plan at all. There is not going to be any type of control over what type of buildings will go up and what type of traffic they will have,” Prince said.

Daniel O’Donnell, a city planner who handled the Porter Ranch application, said the smaller project gives the developers more flexibility than the old project.

“It went from paint by numbers to a blank canvas,” O’Donnell said. Besides downsizing the project, the developers have also asked to be excused from making major transportation infrastructure improvements. The planning commission agreed that, because the project is smaller, the developer should not have to build a bridge connecting two parts of Sesnon Avenue that are interrupted by Aliso Canyon.

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In addition, an extension of Corbin Avenue has been dropped. O’Donnell said that since the project has been reduced so dramatically, the city’s Department of Transportation recommended that the traffic impacts effects will not be as severe and the improvements are no longer needed.

The planning commissioners refused to relieve the Porter Ranch Development Co. of requirements to build a child care center, a community center and affordable housing for seniors, something the developers had requested.

O’Donnell said that so far the developer has built only about 80 homes. The company also built 600,000 square feet of retail in its Town Center project.

In all the developers plan to build 2,195 single-family homes and about 1,200 additional housing units, possibly as multifamily housing.

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