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Newhall plan gains steam

Posted: May 24, 2009 10:03 p.m.
Updated: May 26, 2009 3:04 p.m.

This lot, on the corner of 13th Street and Railroad Avenue in Newhall, is as a parking lot during the Cowboy Festival. Casden Properties, which owns the lot, plans to build a mixed residential and commercial development on the 95 acres it owns.

 
Step by step, Santa Clarita officials are trying sort out a catch-22 in Newhall.

The city needs a new railroad crossing in order to move forward with development plans at the corner of Railroad Avenue and 13th Street.

But in a weird piece of chicken-and-egg logic, it also needs to have a plan in hand so the state can approve that railroad crossing.

As a result, the North Newhall Specific Plan has remained on hold while the city prepares a two-stage environmental impact report, a document that may allow the project to move forward.

On Tuesday, the City Council is set to approve a contract with Impact Sciences, Inc. to prepare the EIR.

The cost of the report is being covered by Casden Properties, LLC, which has plans for a mixed residential and commercial development on the 95 acres it owns in the 213-acre North Newhall plan area.

The first stage of the report will examine the proposed crossing - which would replace an existing crossing - and the second stage will focus on the specifics of the development.

"Before anything else can be (done), the city needs to determine if the crossing is viable," Casden spokesman Darren Embry said last week.

The development would include 733 single-family homes and townhouses.

Attorney Hunt Braly, who represents Casden, said he expects more detailed plans for the project site within the next few months.

"We're looking for high-quality residential (development) that fits the community," he said, and added there will be no apartments in the project.

The rest of the North Newhall project area comprises 40 owners has room for up to 473,000 square-feet of commercial space and 76 residential units, Embry said.

At the heart of the development process is the railroad crossing needed for access to the project site. The existing crossing is at the intersection of 13th Street and Railroad Avenue.

As part of the city's general plan, the expressed ideal is to eventually connect Lyons Avenue with Placerita Canyon and the eventual extension of Dockweiler Drive.

Both Casden and city officials prefer a Lyons extension as a new route into the canyon and a linkage to the Casden development.

That would require a new at-grade crossing over the railroad tracks along Railroad Avenue - a project that requires the approval of the state Public Utilities Commission, according to Community Development Director Paul Brotzman.

Or the existing crossing at 13th Street could be upgraded - work that would also need a green light from the PUC.

The Lyons crossing is preferred by city officials because it will run right through downtown Newhall, which is in the early stages of revitalization efforts.

The land planning contained in the second stage of the EIR will include both options - upgrading the 13th Street crossing, or closing it and extending Lyons Avenue.

The road to development has been circuitous.

About 3 1/2 years ago, Casden representatives met with the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association and ran into concerns about the developer's plans for the wide, flat swath of land at the mouth of the canyon.

What came out of that, Brotzman said, was the draft North Newhall Specific Plan, the cost for which was shared by Casden and the city. That plan was put on hold in spring 2008 as city officials deal with the road issues.


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