Oxnard, sees high-rise towers in its future Construction Plans . . . Far off Future, City council adds
By Raul Hernandez, rhernandez@VenturaCountyStar.com, This was taken from Ventura County Star
April 21, 2005
High-rise buildings are in Oxnard's future, especially around Vineyard Avenue and Oxnard Boulevard near other tall structures, the City Council concluded this week.
The council made the comments during a pre-application review of three high-rise towers proposed near The Esplanade shopping center by developer Douglas Austin.
The council members made it clear, however, that it would be highly unlikely that the three towers -- two would be 31 stories and the third would reach 48 -- would be built in the near future. There are too many other construction projects going on in the area -- including RiverPark and major highway improvements -- that must be completed first, council members said.
RiverPark is a 2,805-home development and will also have 2.4 million square feet of commercial and office space.
Still, council members encouraged Austin to stick with his plans that include 1,043 condominiums and 1.5 million square feet of commercial space.
At the recent Road Ahead 2005 housing conference at California State University, Channel Islands, a panel of experts said the future of Ventura County includes high-density, high-rise buildings, said Mayor Tom Holden.
"It is just a matter of width and how high and what it all involves," Holden said. "This is not a project that I see coming out in the near future in regards to the other projects ... I just think at this point, though, to give any inclination that we are going to go forward on this type of project, given what we have on the plate already, the concerns of traffic and schools and everything," would go against residents' concerns.
Considering the next step
After the review, Austin said in an interview that he will sit down with his staff to determine his next step.
"It would be an overstatement to say that I am encouraged or discouraged. I think at this point there is enough encouragement to keep moving forward. There is enough caution flags to not be overly optimistic," he said.
Councilman Andres Herrera offered more hope. He described the proposal as "visionary" and said he likes the concept of tenants being able to work, live and play near the same site.
"We have a lot of limitations that would create a problem for this kind of project, but I think it's time that we look at those sorts of things," he said. More at Ventura County Star
Proposed high-rise towers spark growth debate
By Charles Levin, clevin@VenturaCountyStar.com, This was taken from Ventura County Star
April 19, 2005
Developer Doug Austin says his plan for three high-rise towers in Oxnard would give Ventura County a leg up in the world of "smart growth" -- high-density communities near transit centers that promote walking instead of driving.
More than 1,000 condominiums nestled in tall buildings are the best antidote to Orange County-like suburban sprawl, says Austin, president and CEO of San Diego-based Avion Development LLC.
"We only build where we believe in smart growth," says Austin, whose firm has built similar towers in San Diego.
Other advocates of smart growth, however, criticize Austin's plan. They say it would bring unwanted traffic to an area already snarled with motorists. High-rise towers belong in large cities, not suburbs, they say.
"It's like those giant Diamond Vision screens," Ventura City Manager Rick Cole said. "It looks great at Dodger Stadium, but you wouldn't want to cram one into your living room."
Austin recently proposed building three towers with a combined 1,043 condominiums covering 1.5 million square feet. Dubbed the Channel Islands Center, the towers would replace the Levitz Furniture warehouse store and parking lot on Oxnard Boulevard near The Esplanade shopping center.
Two towers would stand 31 stories tall, while a third would reach 48. In contrast, Oxnard's nearby Topa Financial Plaza towers off Vineyard Avenue stand at 14 and 21 stories.
The Channel Islands Center also would include 43,600 square feet of offices, 23,100 square feet of retail space and 2,762 parking spaces. Austin estimates the center would cost $400 million and take four years to build.
The center is slated for an area already teeming with growth. Across Highway 101, construction has begun on RiverPark, a development of 2,805 homes and 2.4 million square feet of commercial and office space.
Oxnard also wants to redevelop the Wagon Wheel restaurant and motel area with housing, retail space and a Metrolink train station, said Chris Williamson, an associate city planner.
Avion submitted its plan in a pre-application for the towers last month. The City Council will discuss the project during a study session tonight.
Density versus sprawl
Housing in Ventura County is in short supply, and with growth-control laws in place, available land for more homes is shrinking. "If you're trying to avoid L.A. sprawl, you have to embrace density," Austin said.
Urban planning expert Peter Katz said high-rise towers aren't necessarily taboo for suburbs.
"You can have great places with tall buildings, and you can have horrible places with tall buildings," said Katz, author of "The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community" and a teacher of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
"A skyline does have a psychological impact on people. It sends a message regarding a community's aspirations," Katz said. "My concern is what's going on on the ground. What does it do for human life and enjoyment? How does it contribute to the function of a region? Is it part of a larger plan of streets and blocks and neighborhoods that add urbanity and function to a community, or is it a monument to the developer's ego?"
The Channel Islands Center would cater to pedestrians with shops, restaurants and walking bridges to The Esplanade and the Wagon Wheel area, Austin said. Tennis courts and pools atop a parking garage would be available to condo residents.
"The residents won't need to leave often, because most amenities are there," Austin said.
Austin envisions selling the condos to empty-nest baby boomers and childless Generation X'ers (those born from 1965 to 1980) -- all lured by views of Ventura County's mountains, farmland and beaches. He could not say how much the condos would sell for.
The proposal, however, is not written in stone. The company still is waiting for studies confirming favorable market conditions and construction costs, Austin said.
'Oxnard deserves better'
Cole, an avid proponent of smart growth when he was mayor of Pasadena and now in Ventura, said a 48-story skyscraper in Oxnard would be a "blunder of scale." The idea makes about as much sense as putting Manhattan's 52-story Trump Tower in Oxnard or building a single-family home tract in Times Square, he said. Oxnard is not downtown Manhattan or even Long Beach, he said.
"Neighborhoods and districts have an inherent scale, and a project of this type is a world unto itself that destroys any opportunity for a cohesive neighborhood or district," he said.
Cole praised the city of Oxnard for investing in its downtown and requiring developers to provide affordable homes. "Oxnard deserves better precisely because they're setting the pace for growth, and they should be setting the pace for smart growth," Cole said.
High-rise towers can be construed as smart growth, said Ventura-based architect Nick Deitch, principal of Mainstreet Architects. "We talk about wanting to be more efficient with land," Deitch said. "You can't be much more efficient than that. The devil is in the details."
Deitch said the area around Vineyard Avenue and Oxnard Boulevard now promotes driving, not walking.
"If it evolves the way it appears to, tower residents are going to be in their car or leaving it," Deitch said, adding he has only seen project renderings published in a newspaper. "If this is done thoughtfully, this is something that could start to heal this area. But it is a huge wound that needs to be healed. That would not be a bad thing."
County Supervisor Linda Parks doesn't see much room for healing. The towers would increase traffic in an already-congested area, said Parks, an advocate for slow growth.
RiverPark is expected to generate 94,500 daily car trips -- 9,860 during the evening rush hour, according to environmental reports. Completion of the Santa Clara River Bridge project on Highway 101 will help, but the towers would add more traffic than bridge engineers anticipated, Parks said.
Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Williamson, however, said city officials would carefully weigh traffic issues when considering the project.
Transit is an issue
Oxnard Councilman Tim Flynn, who has begun to question the city's rate of growth, agreed with Parks. Growth can bring opportunities such as jobs and prosperity, Flynn said. But without better public transit, RiverPark alone -- let alone the towers -- will overwhelm the city, he said.
"You have to have smart transportation to have smart growth," Flynn said, adding he's willing to sit down with Cole and other Ventura leaders to discuss traffic and transit solutions.
Austin, however, said, "I'd be very surprised if we couldn't handle the traffic flows with what's available. We'll do the homework. We're not going to take that for granted. If we don't address it, we'll be paying a price later ourselves."
Cole believes the towers are a poor fit also because the city lacks a coherent vision that would link Austin's proposal with RiverPark, The Esplanade and the Wagon Wheel area.
Williamson said Oxnard has approved projects in that area according to the city's 1990 general plan -- a blueprint for growth and development. "It's time for a new vision, and we're starting on that as soon as we get a consultant on board," Williamson said of a planned general plan update.
City leaders must evaluate the growth results so far and consider whether to stay the course or carve out a new vision, he said.
"If we do want to grow at some rate and not ask voters to relax (growth-control) boundaries, then how and where do we go up?" Williamson said of high rises. "That will be the question."
By Charles Levin, clevin@VenturaCountyStar.com, This was taken from Ventura County Star
April 19, 2005
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