After a unanimous Planning Commission vote approving a $100 million plan to bring Santa Clarita its second Costco and other amenities at the Westfield Valencia Town Center, the proposed project recently hit a hurdle with an appeal filed against the development.
The Santa Clarita Planning Commission greenlighted the proposal on Jan. 21 and set a 15-day window for anyone to appeal the project.
That appeal came Jan. 31 by Santa Clarita Safe and Strong, “an unincorporated association of residents of the city of Santa Clarita and the Valencia community,” read the letter to the city of Santa Clarita. The group is represented by Tal Finney, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has done similar work in the past appealing proposed commercial projects.
The Safe and Strong group represents a growing number of residents who live adjacent to the planned mall expansion, Finney said on Wednesday, adding that he does not represent a specific homeowners association and that his firm is also representing a community group in Orange County opposing the expansion of a Costco gas station, “but no other cases opposing Costco.”
The project, dubbed the Patios Connection project, consists of replacing the former Sears building with the construction of a Costco, with a rooftop parking lot, as well as a gas station, retail and restaurant spaces, health and fitness center, luxury cinema and expansion of the existing Canyon music venue.
With a proposal to grow the Westfield Valencia Town Center at a heavily trafficked location, the Safe and Strong group believes they “may be adversely affected by the potential traffic, air quality, soil quality, groundwater quality, noise, public health and safety hazards imposed by the project,” according to the appeal.
In a prepared statement, Finney said Wednesday that the “association of residents” also believe construction work “creates environmental and safety issues involved with the demolition of a Sears automotive center and the subsequent construction on the same footprint of a health fitness center, a grocery store and a major Costco multi-pump gas station.”
The Safe and Strong website, which does not specify its founders or its members, states that “Westfield and Costco need to do the right thing and conduct a full comprehensive (environmental impact report) that will ensure that the thousands of families that live near the proposed development will know what impacts this project will have on traffic, public safety, air quality and the environment.”
Mall officials have stated they are ready to go for construction this year after expressing confidence in the project changes recommended by community members during public meetings with mall officials, as well as changes requested by the city of Santa Clarita after traffic studies raised concerns over possible increased traffic in the area. Among those changes include improvements to six intersections to improve circulation into the property, including on Citrus Street, Magic Mountain Parkway and Valencia Boulevard, as well as reconfiguring the existing surface parking lot.
“Westfield is proud of the Patios Connection project and appreciates the broad-based community support we’ve received,” said John Musella, spokesman for Westfield Valencia Town Center, via email on Wednesday. “Over the last year, we’ve worked closely with local community groups and are proud of their public support of the Patios Connection project. We’re creating everyday conveniences and adding dynamic offerings in one location, which is what local residents are looking for at the Valencia Town Center.”
More specifically, the appeal contends that the initial study is not in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, which is designed to assess potential significant environmental effects of a project. The appeal also argues that the proposal fails to implement all feasible operational mitigation measures and provides inadequate parking.
“For example, vehicles were routinely repaired in the Sears automotive center. This may have led to oil, antifreeze and other toxins and carcinogens being deposited into the soil…(and) (t)hese toxins may be disturbed during demolition, regarding of the soil and construction of the new facilities,” reads a portion of the appeal.
Musella said mall officials are looking “forward to sharing our plans at the upcoming City Council meeting and look forward to a robust conversation about the added community benefits of the project.”
Finney said the group will submit expert reports on the stated environmental impacts of the project. The appeal is expected to be discussed before the City Council on Tuesday, March 24, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.