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California Neotraditional Plans, Projects

August 29, 1993|WILLIAM FULTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Fulton is the editor of the California Planning & Development Report, based in Ventura. and

Though Andres Duany is a Floridian, nowhere has the impact of his ideas--and those of other, similar designers such as San Francisco's Peter Calthorpe--had a more profound impact than here in California.

Duany first came to California's attention in 1989, when his blistering critique of the Folsom general plan was videotaped and widely circulated among planners and local government officials throughout the state. Subsequently, Calthorpe's similar "pedestrian pocket" ideas received widespread attention around the state. In fact, Calthorpe, not Duany, appears to be the leading neotraditional designer in the state right now, having served as master-planner on virtually all large "new town" projects in the Central Valley.

Calthorpe has also crafted "transit-oriented development" ordinances in both San Diego, where the ordinance has been adopted, and in Sacramento County, where it seems unlikely to win passage for political reasons.

Both Duany and Calthorpe helped develop "The Ahwanee Principles," a set of neotraditional planning guidelines formulated at a meeting at the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite National Park and currently being promoted by the Local Government Commission, a private organization made up of some local officials.

As a result, large new projects throughout the state are advertised, almost without exception, as being "neotraditional" in nature, whether or not they really are. Indeed, the general perception among developers seems to be that no large project stands a chance of being approved if it does not contain the grid street patterns and pedestrian orientation. Here is a rundown of the most prominent neotraditional projects in California right now:

Playa Vista: Duany and his partner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk were one of five design firms who collaborated on the design for this low-rise community south of Marina del Rey. (See accompanying story.)

Ahmanson Ranch: This 1,885-acre project on the Ventura/Los Angeles County border near Calabasas is described by its developer, Ahmanson Land Co., a subsidiary of Home Savings of America, as "a compact, self-contained, pedestrian-oriented community in a splendid natural setting." A total 2,700 homes are planned, along with two golf courses. A "village center" serves as the "downtown" for Ahmanson Ranch, with shops, office buildings and a 300-room resort lodge; homebuyers will be equipped with small electric vehicles to use in running around town. The current master plan was drawn up by FORMA Associates. Approved by Ventura County in December, the project faces nine lawsuits, many from neighboring communities who dislike it.

Otay Ranch: A 23,000-acre community straddling the city of Chula Vista and the county of San Diego, this project is owned by the Baldwin Co. with principal design work again done by FORMA Associates. The vast site is divided into 16 separate villages, five of which are "transit villages" that offer easy access to San Diego's trolley line. Each village has its own community center, usually with a park, an elementary school and "community-serving" stores.

Laguna West: This 1,000-acre residential subdivision in Sacramento County, now under construction, embodies the "transit-oriented development" principles of its master planner, Peter Calthorpe. Two diagonal streets emanating out of the town center, like spokes from the hub of a wheel, connect the town center and a "village green" to residential areas. The project calls for 3,400 housing units; most homes have front porches, while garages are pushed back from the street.

South Brentwood Village: Calthorpe has designed this 140-acre project in the Contra Costa City of Brentwood. He says this subdivision "will have the qualities of a historic residential neighborhood" and will offer "special places, opportunities and qualities which encourage pedestrian activity and enhance the public life of the neighborhood's residents." The development partnership includes L.A.-based Kaufman & Broad Home Corp., the state's largest homebuilder.

Nance Canyon: L.A.-based Blakely Swartz has proposed this Duany-designed community of 2,400 acres near the City of Chico in Butte County, surrounded by 3,600 acres of open space. The project is divided into nine villages to be built during the next 30 years. The plan is dotted with small "pocket parks." The project is on hold until developer Donald Swartz can resolve differences with local officials on the master plan.

Mission Bay: Like Playa Vista, San Francisco's Mission Bay is a large-scale in-fill development surrounded by a densely developed city. The site consists of 300 acres of "under-utilized" land in the southeast corner of the city, next to the San Francisco Bay. While Mission Bay is not described as a neotraditional community, it has several features in common with such communities: the project will be tied into the city's transit network, the housing will line the street and neighborhood-serving businesses will be available within walking distance.

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