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The Valley

It Takes a City to Raise a Village of Shops, Cafes

November 12, 2001|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Monica has the Third Street Promenade. Pasadena has Old Town. Why shouldn't Agoura Hills have a bustling village at its heart?

This week, the city could move a step closer to that goal when the City Council decides whether to hire a San Luis Obispo firm to complete a two-year plan for the Agoura Village project.

The development was conceived more than five years ago by then-Mayor Fran Pavley, who is now an assemblywoman; current Mayor Ed Corridori; and others. As Councilwoman Louise Rishoff explained, Agoura Hills thinks of itself--particularly the area around Kanan and Agoura roads--as "the gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains."

The phrase appears in the city's promotional literature, and it's a fair description of the mountainside patch of Agoura that sits on Kanan between the Conejo Valley and the beaches of Malibu.

"We didn't want development to just come in there piecemeal," Rishoff said. "It's too significant a site."

Four years ago, the city approved the concept of Agoura Village, a pedestrian-friendly development of cafes, shops, entertainment venues and restaurants that supporters hope will serve as a city center and tourist destination.

Although groundbreaking is at least two years off, planning began in 1997. At that time, city officials and residents sat down with consultants for what planners call a charette, Rishoff recalled. Most of the participants had never heard the word before, but quickly discovered that it was just a fancy term for a collaborative problem-solving session.

Residents dreamed and brainstormed, and their best ideas were captured in a series of "concept drawings" and a wish list for their ideal village, which would run along Agoura Road from Kanan to Cornell Road.

Vaguely Italian-looking in the drawings, Agoura Village would "take advantage of the natural surroundings," including the city's Matterhorn--Ladyface Mountain--a city flier says. There would be ample parking behind the shops and theaters, a central plaza, extensive landscaping, and lots of street furniture and public art.

Councilman Jeffrey Reinhardt and others say it would probably have several anchor businesses, but it would also retain an Agoura Hills flavor, possibly by incorporating an existing equestrian center and the city's pioneer mall: Whizzin's, home to a number of antique stores.

So far, the plan has stirred little controversy, perhaps because it is still largely theoretical. But in Corridori's recent successful reelection campaign, the mayor made it a priority.

The working plan probably will be changed during future public meetings, but supporters agree on certain elements. At the charette, they said the village should reflect the city's character and quality of life and not be a clone of developments in Santa Monica, Pasadena, Thousand Oaks or elsewhere.

The plan allows for housing above the shops and other commercial operations, and a carriage, bus or shuttle to move people around the complex.

Reinhardt likes the idea of having housing in the project. Now, he said, children who grow up in Agoura Hills often can't afford to live in the city.

He can visualize second-floor condos or apartments that would invite the city's grown children to remain, along with retirees and empty nesters.

Although the development will cater to people on foot, Agoura Road is a main artery and can't be closed.

"The concept is probably less Third Street, Santa Monica, than State Street, Santa Barbara," Reinhardt said. The Promenade area of Third Street is closed to cars, while auto traffic is simply slowed on State Street.

The council on Wednesday is expected to hire RRM Design Group of San Luis Obispo to draft the project plan, at a cost of about $250,000 over two years.

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