Monday, October 4, 2010

Woodland Hills Gains Costco, Loses Walkability

Okay, I've done my best to embrace walking in my neighborhood, to ignore the fact that while we might have any number of walkable destinations, our every step is thwarted by urban design where the automobile doesn't so much "dominate" as "crush into oblivion." Sometimes literally.

So when I learned of the supposedly mixed-use "Village" project, announced with much fanfare by Westfield a few years back, I was cautiously hopeful. Granted, the sidewalks that a mall developer would produce were hardly likely to serve the five essential purposes touted by our friends Loukaitou-Sideris and Ehrenfeucht, but maybe we could get one or two of them. Like the one about beauty. Because nothing could possibly be uglier than an empty parking lot and some vacant buildings, right?

Except maybe Costco. And a gas station.

Yes, as proclaimed in this article from the LA Times today (though, somehow never mentioned to us residents until it was a "done deal"), that pie in the sky dream of a village center was of the muddy variety.

I realize that in these tough economic times there may be good cause to replace the residential piece of a project with something else. The problem comes when that something else consists of the two least pedestrian-friendly uses possible, combined with a design that smacks of complete auto orientation. Blank facades facing the sidewalk? Surface parking? A gas station on the corner??

And honestly. I know you have to sell your project to the public, but don't you think it's laying it on a bit thick to suggest that "The [gas] station's placement at the corner of Victory Boulevard and Owensmouth Avenue will be 'something that's nice and appropriate.'" I've seen a lot of corner gas stations in my time, friends, and I have yet to run across one that's "nice" for a pedestrian.

But I'll let you judge the design for yourselves. Here's the site plan, as originally revised, followed by the most recent version.


  1. I have never been so angry and dissapointed that Costco will join the heart of Warner Center. We were promised so much and this is the end result. We have been sold down the river for big business. I enjoy Costco, and there are many areas that they can go to very close by. But don't take the cream of the crop for Warner Center, and with a gas station on the corner of Owensmouth and Victory. Dennis Zine should be forced to resign over this. Shame on him. He allowed all these apartments on Desoto and surrounding area, and then this. What next?

  2. The same thing happened to us in Blacksburg, VA by Fairmount Properties. We were promised a walkable, mixed-use, new-urbanist development, and at the last minute, the developer swapped out the residential portion with a 120,000 square-foot big-box store, complete with vast amounts of surface parking. Our town reacted by passing a law requiring a "special use permit" for any retail space larger than 60,000 square feet, and Fairmount attempted to subvert our democracy by claiming that they were exempt because they had the zoning before the law passed. Long story short, we, the town, won in state court, and the "phase 2" of the project is now on hold.

    I have never seen anything good come from these types of development. They build a plastic recreation of urban streets that does not in any way blend into the surrounding urban fabric. They locate them amongst the same type of infrastructure and land use as a traditional strip mall (and include the same surface parking), and the result is even if the new urbanism is "realistic," it only serves to provide a certain aesthetic for shoppers, no different than a store which has an interesting interior. Looked at as a "black box," these developments have the same effect on the surrounding community as any large-scale retail development, regardless of whether the lipstick of new urbanism has been applied.

  3. As I'm sure you can tell from this post, I'm pretty frustrated with this development as well. Frankly, I'm not sure I buy the whole "jobs" argument, as our neighborhood is already a commercial/office hub with plenty of high rise buildings and two major retail malls. The addition of a few hundred moderate-wage jobs might be nice, but is really worth sacrificing the opportunity for a true community center?

    My hope is that even if the Costco is a "done deal," we are still early enough in the process to acheive some design modifications that will help ameliorate the whole big box/gas station combo. Jeff, I'm encouraged to hear about what you were able to do in VA!

  4. I appreciate your article and all the posts. We need to work to together to make this project acceptable to the community and for the future of Warner center and the West Valley. The potential shouldn't be wasted.

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