5/07/2007

City's plan for downtown Newhall has its critics: Los Angeles CA Daily News, 3/23/07

By Judy O'Rourke

The city [of Santa Clarita CA] plans to embark next week on the controversial restriping of two thoroughfares in downtown Newhall and is poised to appraise properties near a planned civic site as part of $7 million earmarked for the first phase of area improvements.

Not all in the area targeted for redevelopment who received Santa Clarita's appraisal notice embraced the prospect.

"I'm sure it's a preliminary for saying they're going to do eminent domain if I don't cooperate," said Tom Fitterer, who owns a building near Lyons Avenue and San Fernando Road that's occupied by a tattoo parlor and gallery.

The city would like to buy properties north of Lyons on Spruce Street near a site it already owns, and officials said they would use eminent domain only as a last resort.

The Santa Clarita City Council adopted a specific plan for downtown Newhall in December 2005. The area set for redevelopment is envisioned as a pedestrian-friendly arts and entertainment enclave; retooled zoning codes will permit denser commercial development.

Last year the city bought the Union 76 gas station property at the corner of San Fernando and Lyons for about $840,000 - kitty-corner from Fitterer's building. It also purchased the shuttered Moore's Submarine Sandwiches property on San Fernando and Fifth Street for $760,000. The city hopes to preserve the old jail building on Spruce, now occupied by the Antique Flower Garden.

Fitterer bought the corner property about a decade ago in part because of its high visibility to droves of passing motorists. He says he's not interested in selling. The city's letter voiced interest but did not pitch a sale, he said.

Chris Price, an assistant city engineer, said phase one of the redevelopment process is not intended to move at warp speed.

"Any sort of process that would lead to legal action would be a long process, and staff's direction is to work with any property or business owners to avoid that possibility," he said. "Staff has direction to appraise certain properties that make up a couple of the catalyst sites for the (plan), and that may lead to offers to purchase, but it doesn't mean anything beyond that at this point."

The city has said developers will be expected to exhaust every option in striking deals with property owners, and several parcels may need to be bundled to create large enough spaces to accommodate big developments.

Eminent domain is government's power to take private property for a public use. If the city decides to "assemble" properties for a project and must invoke eminent domain, the property owners would be paid and relocated, Price said.

This past winter, the city ordered a study to evaluate retail needs that are under-served in Newhall. The study provides recommendations for a "good" mix of retail tenants - such as dining, shopping and nightlife venues.

Auto-related businesses, which comprise roughly 11 percent of the area's companies, will be allowed to stay under the specific plan but not to expand, said Alex Hernandez, an administrative analyst for the city. Service providers such as medical and dental practices, which comprise about two-thirds of the area's businesses, would be allowed to remain.

"(The study) found we have an under-supply of movie theaters," which would be a welcome addition, Hernandez said.

Meanwhile, the restriping - which might cost up to $800,000 - could start Monday and should finish by the end of June.

San Fernando Road between Fifth and Lyons will be restriped from four lanes to two to slow through traffic and make room for back-in angled parking. The speed limit will drop from 40 mph to 25 mph.

"Nobody I've talked to is excited about back-in parking," said Terry Carberry, who with his wife, LaVonne, owns an environmental consulting business and the building it occupies on San Fernando between 8th and Market streets.


Los Angeles CA Daily News: http://www.dailynews.com