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Site Acquired for Simi Retail/Housing Complex

Real estate: Escrow closes on the 35 acres near the Civic Center, where developers plan to build a mall, apartments for senior citizens and townhomes.


Plans to build a retail and housing complex on Tapo Canyon Road east of the Simi Valley Civic Center advanced last week when escrow closed on the sale of a 35-acre site to a Westlake Village firm.

When complete, El Paseo Simi will contain up to 190 townhomes, 176 apartments for senior citizens and a 201,111-square-foot shopping center featuring a Kohl's department store, a Pavilions grocery and a Borders bookstore.

Selleck Properties spent $13.75 million to acquire the former school district site on Tapo Canyon north of Alamo Street, across the street from City Hall, the library and senior center.

"For right now, it will function as a good downtown," said Tony Stewart, a senior planner for the city. "This is definitely a nice in-fill site in the center of the community. We need more multifamily [housing], so this will go a long way to meeting that need."

Originally donated to the Simi Valley Unified School District for use as a high school, the site was considered too small. It was classified as surplus property and placed on the market more than a dozen years ago.

After several unsuccessful attempts to sell the property, the district made a deal two years ago with Selleck Properties, which had built Civic Center Plaza--one of the city's newest retail centers--on the southwest corner of Tapo Canyon and Alamo. That center contains a Regal Cinemas, a T.G.I. Friday's and a Men's Wearhouse and has since been sold to CNA Enterprises, a Century City-based real estate investment firm.

Proceeds from the sale of the school district property will help repay long-term debt incurred six years ago when Royal High School's new stadium and running track were constructed, and will go toward $1.3 million in improvements planned for Simi Valley High School's stadium, according to Lowell Schultze, the district's assistant superintendent of business services. Some of the money probably will be used to improve other school sites, although final allocations will be determined by the school board, Schultze said.

"It's been a very long, detailed and arduous project," said Robert D. Selleck, president of the development company. "We've had eight or nine separate meetings with residents of the neighborhood to make sure they were comfortable with the direction we were going. We've been working on this since the summer of 2000, and actually talking to the school district even before that." Grading on the property is expected to begin next month.

Selleck's company worked with the city to secure environmental and regulatory approval for the overall project and will oversee development of the retail portion of El Paseo Simi.

Shea Homes, with its Southern California division in Brea, has signed on to build the townhomes, and Roseville-based USA Properties Fund is building the senior apartments, at least 25% of which will be classified as affordable, according to the development agreement.

"This is an outstanding location for this kind of project," said Steven Gall, executive vice president of USA Properties. "The city has been extremely supportive, and [officials] have definitely created the vision for what they want to see there."

Vintage Paseo Senior Apartments will have one- and two-bedroom units from 575 to 800 square feet. Gall said rents will range from about $500 to $900.

To help keep rents low, the city is working with USA Properties as it applies for a $17-million state revenue bond which, if approved, would provide it with long-term financing of less than 6%. The bonds, which support affordable multifamily housing, would be repaid from future rent receipts.

Gall said his company hopes to secure its final city permits this fall and begin construction next spring. USA Properties will soon open 160 senior apartments it is building in Canoga Park near Vanowen Street and Owensmouth Avenue.

Shea Homes is already familiar with Simi Valley, having built in the Briarwood subdivision, where prices start in the mid-$300,000 range, and is starting work on more than 700 single-family homes at Big Sky Ranch near Lost Canyons Golf Course, where homes are expected to be priced from $350,000 to more than $600,000.

Steve Seemann, a Shea regional vice president, said the townhome project at El Paseo Simi will have two- and three-bedroom condominiums with two-car garages in three floor plans starting at about $245,000.

"It gives us a chance to provide some entry-level housing in Simi Valley, which desperately needs it," Seemann said.

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