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Will the real urban center please stand up?

Posted: July 13, 2008 1:19 a.m.
Updated: September 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
There has been a lot of talk generated over the term "urban center" - did our city manager say he wants to turn our suburban bedroom community into a legitimate urban center of its own, or was he incorrectly paraphrased?

Since the paraphrasing appeared in The Signal, the editorial staff posted ("‘Urban center'? Not in Santa Clarita!" June 27) a positive interpretation of "urban center" as a panacea for "suburban sprawl," or what was described as a giant water-sucking, road-crowding, utility-wasting beast (yes, I'm paraphrasing).

Let's analyze The Signal's example of "big (and bigger) single-family homes." One such home, on a quarter-acre of land, would most likely average about four people.

Even if all four of those people drove cars, that would not add up to the road-crowding traffic generated by a three-story office building or a 13-story hotel on a slightly larger parcel (and what about the water, the electricity, the parking structure, etc., associated with that commercial building?)

The editors also stated that the original Victor Gruen plan for Valencia was to include a "compact, towering civic center." In the Signal's eyes, "civic center" seems to equal "urban center."

I think this is where we need to pause and begin to do some defining of terms. My perception of a "civic center" has always been that of a designated area inside a community that housed governmental services as well as some businesses.

Conversely, my definition of "urban center" encompasses the whole city. Thus, you can build about three times the square footage of the Valencia Town Center on one-half the land in the middle of Valencia residences; you can relocate a railroad crossing and crowd a 90-acre piece of land with over 640,000 square feet of commercial and retail structures (plus 1,000 additional housing units) near Placerita Canyon country homes; and you can pack wall-to-wall parking structures, multi-storied hotels and commercial businesses into a bucolic field adjacent to established, residential Newhall neighborhoods.

These planned "urban center" developments defy existing General Plan zoning designations and threaten to redefine the character of their surrounding neighborhoods.

I can't see anything positive about the latter definition of "urban center." I therefore think we all need to sit down and coolly and rationally find out what each of us means when he or she says "urban center," then we can resume the debate on the merits and shortcomings of the current developments wending their way through the city of Santa Clarita's Planning Department.

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