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Hearing set Tuesday for proposed Wal-Mart store at mall

Plan would put a 'neighborhood market' in Patios area of Westfield Valencia Town Center

Posted: January 12, 2013 4:17 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2013 4:17 p.m.

The Santa Clarita Planning Commission will take up the issue of a Walmart Neighborhood Market proposed for the Westfield Valencia Town Center during the commission’s Tuesday meeting.

Westfield is requesting approval for site changes at a location on the Patios, next to Sears, a spokesman for the city said.

There will also be time allotted for the public to comment, said Jessica Frank, associate planner with the city of Santa Clarita.

Wal-Mart launched its “neighborhood markets” in 1998, offering smaller grocery stores designed to offer quick checkout.

As part of its proposal, Westfield is requesting some architectural changes to the exterior of the vacant retail space, but it is also asking for changes that both the city and a few local residents are questioning.

While the city has outlined its concerns with Westfield, residents have also voiced some opposition, Frank said.
The city has received nine letters and two phones calls regarding the project.

The main concerns expressed were related to parking, traffic, aesthetics of proposed loading bays, grocery carts within the parking lot and the “impact a Wal-Mart store would have on the mall’s character,” according to a city staff report.

Parking near the proposed store is a significant concern for the city, as well.

When the Patios was originally planned, a grocery outlet was never considered, Frank said. The analysis for traffic and parking didn’t look at the impact of a grocery store located at the mall, she said.

While the number of parking spaces met codes that were in place at the time of the mall’s construction, the city claims that parking near the Patios is frequently almost or completely full.

Also, changes requested by Westfield to add two new loading bays and redesign a portion of the mall’s parking lot, as well as the entry to the parking lot from Valencia Boulevard, would take away some of the existing parking spaces.

Westfield is proposing a parking management plan, Frank said.

Options include mall employees parking off-site and shuttling them in, offering valet parking to shoppers, setting up time-restricted parking spaces near the Wal-Mart grocery store, and more.
But the issue remains of concern to the city.

In a parking study, a consultant to the city determined that at “its peak period, the Patios parking areas are at capacity.”

Also, experts state the demand for parking increases for grocery use as opposed to a regional mall.
Safe access between lots is another concern.

Among the unresolved issues is the city’s request that Westfield provide safe and easy pedestrian and shopping cart access between the grocery store and the lower level parking by Sears, Frank said.

Santa Clarita would like Westfield to install a “vermaport,” which the company has at one of its malls in San Diego, she said.

A vermaport is a side-by-side, dual escalator. One side moves people and the other side transports their shopping carts.

Westfield does not appear to be in favor of the vermaport. Or at least it hasn’t addressed it on plans that have been resubmitted, Frank said.

Other changes requested by Westfield include two new loading bays.

The city also has major concerns about adding new areas for delivery merchandise to the grocery.

Semi-trucks would access the new loading bays by crossing areas used by pedestrians walking from the parking lot to the mall.

There are also cosmetic issues with the new loading bays that the city does not believe would be resolved merely with landscaping or a screening wall.

While Westfield has made some minor design changes since it first requested approval, the city does not feel the revisions have “shown significant effort to remedy the issue,” according to the staff report.

The city has suggested alternative options for adding two new loading bays, but says that Westfield does not support the proposed changes.

While the mall is already zoned to allow retail businesses to open, and the city can’t prohibit a grocer from going in at the location, it can deny the proposed site changes, Frank said.

The Santa Clarita Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 23920 Valencia Blvd.



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