Planning Commission signs off on mall plans 

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

The Santa Clarita Planning Commission unanimously approved its recommendation Tuesday of the Town Center Specific Plan, an effort by planners to keep the mall a retail driver for the city and offer their version of a “place-making framework” for a future mixed-use development. 

The goal, said Senior Planner Dave Peterson, is “to create a timeless vision for development,” as well as one that’s flexible. 

The city has cited the Irvine Spectrum Center as a prominent, successful regional draw-type example of this kind of planning in action. 

This week was an opportunity for planners to answer questions after its first presentation in April in front of the commission, as well as address comments that have been received from local stakeholders. 

One of the more discussed topics during the commission’s April discussion was the language regarding affordable housing, and whether that was being encouraged or required. 

The initial discussion in April indicated the city would “strongly encourage” the developer, in a likely buildout scenario that calls for 2,200 units, to create 440 of the units, or 20%, as “affordable housing.” That language is in the plan being sent to the City Council for approval next month.  

The plan is expected to be in front of the council for a first reading June 25 and for final approval July 9. 

The planning is also expected to bring a net of about 600,000 square feet of new commercial space as well, Peterson said, which “provides a potential for a significant impact positively to the community.” 

Officials described affordable housing as units accessible to those making less than 80% of the area’s median income.  

The requested changes covered a range of topics, from outdoor dining regulations to rules around micro-mobility rental programs like rental scooters seen in larger cities, to parking management controls. 

Language that requires the funding of any significant community amenity to be built to be a developer responsibility also was added, as well as a requirement that construction plans on the site be conducted with coordination.  

Planners also asked whether more language was needed in certain areas where the city would like to encourage streets with bike trails versus on-street parking, and Peterson said the policy already states that trails are encouraged. 

City planners have worked on outreach and questions about the plan for a little over a year, long before news of the mall’s sale was announced in September. 

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield announced an intent to get rid of most of its U.S. retail assets like the Valencia mall, defaulted on its $195 million loan for the property and then announced the mall’s sale to Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate Corp. last fall. 

An executive for Centennial hinted at the future of the land having a mixed-use purpose in an interview Sept. 5, moving away from the site’s traditional reputation as a “retail island” and making it more a part of the community. 

“A lot of millennials ‘discovered’ the Santa Clarita Valley and the housing market and the housing market strengthened quite a bit,” said Carl Tash, the company’s chief investment officer, adding the area’s growth has continued on an upward trajectory since COVID-19, as have property values, for the most part.  

Statistics from the Southland Regional Association of Realtors back up his point. 

The average sales price for a single-family home has risen from $604,900 to $920,100 — a 52% increase — over the past five years, according to the organization’s website.  

“What also makes the transaction interesting in our minds is that, as you know, for the last decade, most large malls, virtually all of them have had problems of one form or another. But those problems have sort of worked their way through the system now, and so coupled with this great location we really want to reimagine,” he added, “particularly the town center portion of Valencia Town Center. I think that’s something we’ve done in other properties.”  

The land’s prominence and significance were reasons for the planning effort, but Centennial has repeatedly said publicly the developer is waiting for the city’s plan and intends to work within the structure of the Town Center Specific Plan. 

Michael Platt, executive vice president of mixed-use development for Centennial, said at the April meeting he was “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.”  

Here’s a look at the city’s presentation: 

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