Council, public weigh in on Sunridge 

Sunridge Project property looking north-west from Golden Valley Road in Santa Clarita. 030824. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The public discussion for a piece of land “that’s probably transcended every City Council we’ve had” as Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth put it Wednesday, didn’t really draw a crowd for its first public study session, but council members had plenty of questions for New Urban West. 

The subject of the study session Wednesday was a piece of land more formally known as the Whittaker-Bermite site, and to longtime residents as “the doughnut hole.”  

For about a 50-year period starting in the 1930s, the land south of Soledad Canyon Road, east of Railroad Avenue and west of Golden Valley Road was used as a place where everything from TNT to gas generators to sidewinder missiles were built.  

The lot was shut down in 1987, and after decades of green cleanup that used a perchlorate-eating bacteria in one of the largest such efforts in the nation, the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control declared the remedial efforts complete in February 2021, when it released its hold on the property for $1.4 million. 

New Urban West is looking to build more than double the number of residential units that a previous council approved for the same property in 1995, from 2,911 to more than 6,500, which, as Smyth mentioned at one point, “could result in some push-back.” 

“To the extent that the council wants to guide the development process, you should make comments,” City Attorney Joe Montes said to council members at the start of their comment portion.  

Jonathan Frankel, vice president of New Urban West, who spoke for the project at Wednesday’s study session, said he knew he was at the beginning of a long study session, but the developer was looking for some assurances and clarity for the allowable scope of the project. 

One of the first concerns mentioned by the council was brought up by Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who pointed out that in the initial plans, both Magic Mountain and Santa Clarita parkways were to be built out in the development. 

“One of the things that we hear consistently is that there aren’t enough roads,” McLean said, as Smyth called for a map to be displayed on screens in front of the audience.  

“So, I would just like to see us look more and an extension of those roads, because I believe our residents would like it,” she said. McLean stated there is currently a commercial office space vacancy issue, so that might want to be something the developer considers. 

McLean also brought up the idea of a conference center and a hotel, adding an amphitheater is something that residents of Circle J Ranch, a gated community adjacent to the project, might not want to be built next to their homes. 

Council members also stated a previous amphitheater study the city conducted led to their conclusion that such a project wasn’t feasible, but the developer stated it was something they’ve since “pivoted” to a more open community space that might be usable throughout the week. 

Sunridge Project property adjacent to the Santa Clarita Metrolink station in Santa Clarita. 030824. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Other than that,” McLean said, “I’m looking forward to what you all come up with.” 

Councilman Jason Gibbs said he didn’t see the “big regional draw pieces for a project of this magnitude,” another reference to the size and significance of the plans for the community. 

“I thought it was important to have this meeting today because we are — it’s a project that’s existed on our general plan for years,” referring to it as a potential main doughnut hub that’s been waiting for the right development opportunity.  

Gibbs brought up the idea of a regional-sized sports facility that could help the city be a more competitive draw for tournaments and special events, but also said that, as a Santa Barbara product “who couldn’t swim a lick,” he looked forward to hearing about the wave park. 

He also said he wanted to see more about what the terms might look like before the city decides to agree to anything.  

Councilman Bill Miranda expressed excitement about the land’s potential to fit everything that everyone wants, stating at one point that the plot of land they’re talking about is more than 100 acres larger than New York’s Central Park, which is 853 acres. 

“It doesn’t mean I’m excited about everything I see here, but I’m very excited about the possibility,” he said. 

Both Gibbs and Miranda asked questions about the build-to-suit potential for the project’s business park: Miranda said he could support light manufacturing, but not heavy manufacturing, which is a big difference. 

He also brought up circulation concerns, referring to the project’s goal for putting park amenities within a 15-minute walk of everyone. He asked for transportation and circulation options for those who can’t make a 15-minute walk, also adding an ask for a dedicated portion of senior housing in the project.  

Sunridge Project property adjacent to the Santa Clarita Metrolink station in Santa Clarita. 030824. Dan Watson/The Signal

Several members of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke to the promise of the project and development for such an important piece of land for the city prior to council members’ comments. 

One resident who identified herself as a housing advocate spoke to the positives of adding so many homes but also brought up a concern she had about the water and any possible disclosures that might be necessary, particularly after the recent concerns over pollution from Chiquita Canyon Landfill, which is right outside city limits.  

Jey Wagner, president and CEO of the SCV Economic Development Corp., also spoke to the needs that the project might help fill for the business community. 

“Currently we have a vacancy rate of 2.5% across industrial buildings,” Wagner said, adding the project has an encouraging potential to help the area draw a large-scale business operation and the corollary economic benefits to the area.  

The addition of another 10% of such space would help make an already-enticing city an even better draw for employers, one of the main aims of the SCV Economic Development Corp. 

Councilwoman Laurene Weste offered a more reserved approach to the project. 

“When you say it’s a 30,000-foot look down — well to me, the wildlife corridors and trails, that is what’s important. How are these people going to live? How are things going to function?” she added, saying there needs to be a balance between finding what works that doesn’t destroy what the people in the neighboring communities are used to. 

“The devil is in the detail, how you get traffic in and out of there,” Weste added. One of her first questions involved the future of Santa Clarita Parkway’s connection to the project. 

The city’s circulation plan calls for its extension, but if the developer is not required to build, she questioned the future of the path: “Are you talking about building Santa Clarita Parkway all the way through Central Park, all the way down into Quigley Canyon open space, and across through Placerita Creek and down to the freeway?” she asked City Manager Ken Striplin. 

“The developer is going to have to evaluate that; that’s not in their proposal,” he replied. 

“Well, I just want to mention that you can’t build a road through the park — without losing the park. I just want to put that out there, I’ve been aware of it a long time,” she said, adding the extension of Via Princessa would be a win.  

She said the roads could also use a pair of paseo bridges, one over Via Princessa, and another over Golden Valley Road, and a nature culvert under that road, for the benefit of local wildlife. 

“I love it when Bill says, ‘Everything will fit,’” Weste added. “Well, it might. But, you know, probably most of the things you want will,” she said, looking over, “and I think it’s really important that we find a relationship level here that allows us to have really good communication back and forth, with the chamber, with the community groups, with the developer. So that the think tank of a community here puts its best assets and its feet forward and we end up with a prize at the end and not something where we say, ‘Oh, we missed that.’” 

Click here for The Signal’s story on the project’s initial presentation.)

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