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Panel OKs Revise to the Porter Ranch Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission on Thursday approved a major 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.

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

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

“The market is just not there,” said Larry Calemine, a spokesman for the Porter Ranch Development, explaining why the company dropped its ambitious office building plans. Calemine is also president of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which is studying the San Fernando Valley’s proposed secession from Los Angeles.

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

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

“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.”

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

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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 impacts 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, he says, 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 new, smaller project gives the developers more flexibility than the old project.

“It went from paint by numbers to a blank canvas,” O’Donnell said.

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Besides downsizing the project, the developers have also asked to be excused from making major transportation infrastructure improvements. The planning commission agreed that since the project is smaller, the developer should not have to build a bridge connecting two parts of Sesnon Avenue that are now interrupted by Aliso Canyon.

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 has recommended that the traffic impacts will not be as severe and the improvements are no longer needed.

Jay Kim, a senior transportation engineer for the city’s Department of Transportation, said the new downsized project will generate more than 12,000 new traffic trips in the area during afternoon rush hour. However, he said the developer will be providing major traffic mitigation, such as street widening and new street connections, to ease the traffic flow in the area.

Kim said the project would have a “minimal regional impact” on traffic on local freeways and roads.

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“The traffic will be mostly confined to the area they are building,” Kim said.

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, deletions the developers had requested.

O’Donnell said that so far Porter Ranch Development Co. has built only about 80 homes. The company also built 600,000 square feet of retail in its Town Center project, which includes a Wal-Mart and a Toys R Us. The company has not specified what new stores they hope to lure to the site.

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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