Planners share framework for mall property 

A flier from the city of Santa Clarita's outreach effort in April 2023, when officials were looking for input on the Town Center Specific Plan, an area that includes Valencia Town Center. The city recently concluded its comment period. Courtesy city of Santa Clarita

City planners on Tuesday discussed their goals for one of the most important pieces of property in Santa Clarita, the Town Center Specific Plan, in which they hope to create a “place-making framework” for the area known to most as “the mall.” 

Planners reviewed the outline publicly Tuesday in the city Planning Commission’s first discussion of the plan. 

The city of Santa Clarita has been working on an overall plan for the Valencia Town Center, which was acquired by Dallas-based Centennial last fall, prior to learning about the property’s eventual sale, according to Jason Crawford, the city’s director of community development. He added that the mall’s prior owner was involved in the initial talks. 

However, at the beginning of 2023, the mall’s previous owner, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, defaulted on its $200 million loan for the property, and rumors began to swirl about the mall’s future. 

Ultimately, Centennial announced Sept. 5 it had closed escrow on its $195 million purchase

Senior Planner Dave Peterson, who’s been leading the outreach and planning effort on behalf of the city, said there were a few reasons the city wanted to create a flexible set of guidelines for the centrally located 111-acre area that includes City Hall within its borders.  

Peterson said the origin of the plan came from a couple of different sources. 

The mall is identified as one of the most important commercial areas in the community in the city’s general plan, he said. It’s a regional destination for the community. 

In order to preserve that, long-term development goals were seen as a good idea, he said. 

(Here’s a look at the city’s presentation.)

“That combined with the fact that, as the Planning Commission knows, there is continual state legislation that is eroding the city’s ability, and local jurisdictions’ ability, to review land-use development projects,” Peterson said.  

The city then asked residents for months what they would like to see at their new mall area. 

Santa Clarita planners spent months trying to combine these wishes with goals to create guidelines for Centennial’s future “place-making” plans intended to last decades, Peterson said. 

One of the ways the city hopes to accomplish this in its plan is to require the commercial and residential development to be built in lock-step, without creating a site plan, but rather a “framework.” 

Peterson said “making a great place” where a family could live, play and work was as important as having the right mix of functional tenants. 

One of the appeals of the Irvine Spectrum Center, he said Tuesday, is that you can read a book in one of the grassy areas and not realize Interstate 5 is a few hundred feet away, because of the intentionality of the center’s design. 

“What that defines is the experience of the place,” Peterson said, referring to the fact that people said they just like to go there. “And that is the kind of thing that the Town Center Specific Plan is aiming for.” 

The housing element in the plan also calls for the city to “strongly encourage” the developer, in a likely buildout scenario that calls for 2,200 units, to create 440 of the units as “affordable housing,” meaning priced for those making less than 80% of the area’s median income. 

City planners referred to the 2,200 figure as a “practical maximum,” but he also said that the TCSP is intended as a framework, and the execution of plans is up to Centennial. 

Two members of the Planning Commission, Lisa Eichman and Rene Berlin, asked about the potential for language that called for a more rigorous commitment than “strongly encourage,” a sentiment echoed by a couple of public comments. 

“We also contemplated a certain level of demolition of the town center, of the Valencia Town Center mall,” Peterson said, adding that it also may never occur, but was a good idea to consider in terms of potential environmental impact analyses. 

“We analyzed the demolition of what would be the food court, the JC Penney, the Sears box, a very small portion of (current outdoor mall shopping area) The Patios, which would largely remain intact, and then some portions of the wing of the mall The Canyon is located,” he said. 

Some of the possible elements looked at by city planners included a hotel and convention center space in the southern portion of the site.   

Perhaps most importantly for the plan, Centennial leadership has continued to express its support for what the city of Santa Clarita is trying to create for the area, saying as much Tuesday. 

Michael Platt, executive vice president of mixed-use development for Centennial, also said Centennial would wait until the city finished its planning process for the Town Center Specific Plan before discussing its designs. 

Platt praised the city for its “forward-thinking” and “holistic” initiative in making a plan for the town center. 

“As one of several directly affected owners, I’m grateful for the vision, efforts and commitment of all council members, staff and community residents involved in their collective goal of helping to create a framework for a vibrant, successful and compelling mixed-use environment that will not only serve the many residents of and visitors to Santa Clarita for years to come,” Platt said, “but will also allow for a best-in-class, balanced, synergistic, live-work-shop-play-dine-and-entertain destination of which Santa Clarita can be proud.” 

The Texas developer is a “vertically integrated owner-operator that has 32 properties in 17 states covering more than 21 million square feet,” he added.  

While members of the Planning Commission asked questions about sustainability, traffic, design and more, the “place-making” goal that sought to build a destination shopping area blended with commercial, recreational and residential spaces, a la Irvine Spectrum Center, for example, earned high marks overall from the commission.  

“You guys designed a heckuva theme park,” said Tim Burkhart, chair of the Planning Commission, who knows a thing or two on the subject. In addition to more than 20 years on the commission, Burkhart recently retired as a former corporate vice president at Six Flags, who oversaw maintenance and construction for all North American parks, including Six Flags Magic Mountain. 

“This is … everything that you’ve said is exactly the things that get considered when a theme park is developed,” he said.  

“They’re developed to be ‘places,’ they’re developed with the ideas of great place-making and if you kind of compare what you’ve talked about and what you’ve shown us,” he said, mentioning major theme parks, “that’s it. So, it rang home to me.” 

Tuesday’s meeting was the first discussion of the project in front of the Planning Commission, with a second discussion, as well as the city’s responses to public comments from the document’s environmental impact review, expected to come back before the commission at its May 21 hearing. 

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