Housing projects in Newhall, near Vista Canyon make progress before Planning Commission

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Watson/The Signal
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Two developments, one for residential housing near the Vista Canyon project and the other for assisted living in Newhall, are one step closer toward construction, following a green light Tuesday from Santa Clarita planning commissioners.  

After hearing from members of the public and voicing recommendations of their own, the five-member board agreed to send the Metro Walk Specific Plan, a multi-family residential and plaza project, and the Health Care Facility project for senior living, to the City Council to seek final approval. 

Health care facility 

Located on the west side of Sierra Highway and south of Newhall Avenue, developer Norris Whitmore is looking to build an 83-unit senior-living facility that consists of 29 studio memory care units, 51 one-bedroom independent/assisted living units, and three two-bedroom independent/assisted living units. 

Due to the site location and design, the project would require the removal of one heritage oak and four non-heritage oak trees of the 54 oak trees on site. Planning commissioners focused on the single heritage oak, suggesting that they’d much rather see changes in the overall project than see the tree go. Oak trees are considered keystone species to their ecosystem, which “keep forests healthy by maintaining a richer mix of plants, insects, birds and other animals wherever they grow,” according to the American Forest Foundation. 

“I know personally I would much rather encroach on a slope, encroach on a ridgeline than remove a heritage oak tree,” said Planning Commissioner Tim Burkhart. 

Commissioner Lisa Eichman suggested an option of transplanting the tree, bringing up, by example, “Old Glory,” a 400-plus-year-old, nearly 70-foot oak tree saved from the chainsaw in the early 2000s and later successfully replanted from one end of Pico Canyon Road to the other. Tree-sitter John Quigley camped within the tree for 71 days in 2002-03 in an effort to save it from being cut down by a developer. The replanting cost about $1 million, according to Commissioner Dan Masnada. 

Reconfiguring the project to save the tree like “Old Glory” would not work out, however, according to Whitmore, who said transplanting it could cost about $500,000. 

“I’ve lived in this valley my whole life, and if I can save the oak trees, I will. This project and this building site, it’s difficult because the trees are all in the wrong position, and it makes the project almost unbuildable,” he said. “For us to remove a few of these trees and to put this beautiful building in there to house some elderly people for assistance, I think that’s more valuable than keeping the tree.” 

Commissioners offered their vote in support of the project, with the conditions that the developer add an unspecified number of oak trees wherever practical, as well as add more landscape, parking spaces and update the architecture to make it look more inviting. 

Metro Walk 

The Planning Commission also approved moving the Metro Walk project forward to the City Council. This development looks to enhance the Vista Canyon project as it is proposed immediately adjacent to the project. 

It would consist of 498 residential units within four planning areas across 20 acres of land located at the southeast corner of Lost Canyon Road and Harriman Drive via multiple housing options: market-rate apartments, market-rate senior apartments, deed-restricted affordable senior apartments and for-sale townhomes.

“MetroWalk will serve to redefine the community experience, whether you can walk to work right to Vista Canyon or hop onto Metrolink to head into downtown L.A. or beyond,” said Jonathan Frankel with New Urban West Inc., a private home builder. 

A Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. study projects the development would generate more than $460 million in local economic benefit, including more than 1,800 local jobs. Its design of allowing residents to live and work within walking distance would put 11,000 fewer vehicles on the road “as compared to what could be built today,” said Frankel. 

Commissioners, unanimous approval echoed Burkhart’s commentary that the project seems “very well-integrated.”

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