Monday, July 22, 2013

A Closer Look at the Village at Westfield Topanga Development

One of the more controversial mega-developments in Los Angeles at the moment is Westfield's proposal to build a massive mixed-use complex at Warner Center.  Adjacent to the Westfield Topanga shopping mall, the project is appropriately named the Village at Westfield Topanga.  This is the same development that recently raised eyebrows when the LA City Council voted unanimously to forfeit 42% of the tax revenue created by the project over the next 25 years.  Westfield of course claimed that this was a financial necessity in order to build the project in one phase.

Bird's eye view of the proposed development.
Westfield's bread and butter is retail, and this project has it in spades: 444,744 square feet in total.  This includes a 165,759 square foot Costco, which has been one of the main issue of contention with this project.  The Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization filed a lawsuit back in April, arguing that the Costco and its accompanying gas station violates the Warner Center Specific Plan by encouraging car use.  I'm no lawyer, but I can't imagine how one could possibly argue that a gas station doesn't encourage car use.

The "Village," also includes a second anchor tenant in the form of a 275 key high rise hotel.  The 247.5 foot tall hotel comes complete with a two story podium filled with even more retail and restaurant space (duh).

The final aspect of the Village is 285,000 square feet of office space set to fill either one or two towers rising as tall as 247.5 feet.  Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of this.  Metro Los Angeles' overall office vacancy stands at 19% as of Q2, with the West San Fernando Valley at an anemic 36.9%.  At the same time, Farmers Insurance recently relocated their corporate headquarters to Warner Center, signing a 274,000 square foot lease.  Perhaps the fortunes of the Valley are turning?
Anyway, here we see the present condition of the site, mostly vacant land and underutilized surface parking:

And here is the master plan illustrated over roughly the same view:

Moving on, let's take a look at some ground level renderings:

People never look this happy when they're at Costco.

Westfield is clearly shooting for the same kind of atmosphere as their Century City location, which makes sense given the upper-middle class population of Woodland Hills.  You have to wonder if outdoor shopping in the brutal SFV summers could be a turnoff, though.

Different view of the retail paseo.  Who is this chick in the bottom left hand corner smiling at?

Now back to the bird's eye view:

Viewed from this angle, it looks more 3rd Street Promenade than Westfield Century City.  The architecture is pretty generic, but not an eyesore.  I'm sure artistic liberty also spruced it up a bit for this picture.
One last view from across the street.  I see a lot of surface parking.

So there we have it.  While it's nice to see something besides low rise apartment buildings going up in the Valley, this is pretty disappointing from a urban design perspective (surface parking lots fronting the street?!).

Warner Center isn't really that accessible by transit (despite the Orange Line), nor is there much population density in the area to provide organic foot traffic. I can understand the 3,000+ parking spaces to some extent, but Westfield isn't even trying here.  Putting surface parking in between the sidewalk and the stores makes this project look like a strip mall on steroids.  Adding in a gas station station just furthers that comparison.

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