Westfield LLC put its plans for a Walmart grocery store at the Valencia Town Center on hold again, when it learned the city of Santa Clarita’s planning staff was going to ask the Planning Commission to deny the project. It had been set for a Planning Commission hearing Tuesday night.
In a letter addressed to the city Monday, Westfield representative Keith S. Kaplan said the company had been told one thing, then another.
“As you know,” Kaplan wrote, “city staff provided Westfield with two versions of the staff report – with two entirely different recommendations – last week on Monday (Jan. 7) and Wednesday (Jan. 9). The first staff report recommended approval of the development review permit with certain conditions of approval; this was consistent with our conversations with city staff of the past eight months in working through design changes requested by the city staff.
“However,” he continued, “the second version of the staff report changed course and recommended denial. We are requesting a continuance of this item to further consider the changed staff recommendation.”
The city staff objected to the development plans on three main points: the purported unsightliness of an architectural feature (a tower); the fact that a new loading bay would be visible both to patrons within the mall and from the streets fronting the mall; and pedestrian accessibility. On this latter point, the city staff said it wanted Westfield to install a Vermaport – an escalator that has one ramp in each direction for humans, and one ramp in each direction for shopping carts. Westfield recently installed a Vermaport at its Horton Plaza shopping mall in San Diego, according to a city staff report.
Produce section of a Walmart Neighborhood Market.
City planning staffers also wanted Westfield to add parking stalls – the city says the existing spaces would be at 96 percent capacity on Saturday afternoons in December, the busiest time of year – and it wanted more shopping cart retrieval stalls, to prevent shopping carts from being strewn around the shopping center. But the city staff couldn’t find legal grounds for forcing Westfield to add more parking stalls or shopping cart stalls.
Grocery stores are allowed “by right” in the shopping center, and the city can’t prohibit a grocery store on the basis of its brand name or who owns it.
But that didn’t stop 11 local residents – nine by letter, two by phone – from telling the city they specifically didn’t want a Walmart grocery store at the mall.
Westfield had put the project on hold last fall without explanation and restarted the process in November.