2005-02-10 / Community

Informational meetings conclude on remodeling plans for The Oaks

By Sophia Fischer

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

An effort to inform the public about planned renovations to The Oaks mall continued last week. The final in a series of three public information meetings attracted about 70 residents to the Hyatt Westlake on Feb. 2.

Architects and designers with the Thousand Oaks project as well as executives from the Macerich Company, owner and operator of the mall, presented a slide show and color drawings of what the mall will look like after the $100-million renovation.

"Nobody’s perfect. It’s hard to satisfy everybody. Those who are against it are thinking of themselves, not of the overall benefit to the city," said Sue Darwish of Thousand Oaks. "I think it will draw more families there and I think they did a great job."

The mall renovation encompasses three phases. Macerich is currently seeking approval for the first phase, which would add Nordstrom, consolidate the two Robinsons-May stores, add two four-level parking structures and update the overall look of the building, inside and out.

The approval process requires the project to first come before the city’s planning commission and then the city council. The planning commission is scheduled to review the project in March and April.

"I am so excited about this. I’m tired of driving into Woodland Hills to shop. I want to spend my money here," said Fran Targon of Westlake Village.

Although the public meetings have ended, residents can still review and comment on the environmental impact report, available through Feb. 22 at city hall. Comments can be mailed to city hall at 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91362, dropped off, faxed to (805) 449-2350, or e-mailed to senior planner Greg Smith at gsmith@toaks.org.

At the last meeting, residents asked about traffic congestion, handicapped accessibility and employment opportunities. Randy Brant, Macerich senior vice president of development/leasing, provided most of the answers.

Q. How many more jobs will there be due to the mall expansion?

A. There are currently a total of 1,900 jobs; when Phase 1 is completed, there will be an additional 600 to 700 jobs, including those in department stores and restaurants.

Q. Will you be using local contractors or giving them preference in the bidding process?

A. We aren’t considering preferred local contractor bidding at this point, but we won’t exclude locals if their bids are in line. We will work with anyone qualified. Q. Are there any plans to control traffic congestion inside and outside the mall?

A. We’ve done studies in and out of the mall and everything meets city criteria, which is among the most stringent in Southern California. I think people are getting confused with what happens when movies let out. Shopping is different. People wind down at different times so they’re not all leaving at once.

Q. What about Lynn Road?

A. There’s no question that Lynn Road can get busy. Traffic meets city standards.

Q. What about additional phases?

A. I’m not here to talk about those, only Phase 1.

Q. One of my objections to the mall is that it is easy to get in but much more difficult to get out. Will you be making any changes to exiting?

A. No. We’ll be adding signage that there are alternatives to getting out. We have added a third outbound lane onto Lynn Road, expanding the ability to get out.

Q. How many spaces will each parking deck have and how tall are the decks?

A. Deck A will have 1,856 spaces and will be 41 feet high. Deck B will have 607 spaces and will be 39 feet high. Neither structure will be taller than the mall.

Q. Why is all the parking above ground?

A. That’s what the public wants. When you take it below ground, there’s a perception that it’s not safe. We’ve studied this with many of our shopping centers and above ground, where there’s plenty of natural light and the air is moving, is safest.

Q. I am handicapped. From the pictures I saw of the parking deck, it doesn’t look like it will be very accessible to me.

A. Both decks A and B will have van access at every level. There will be clusters of handicapped parking spaces at the elevators. You can also drive to the second level, park in a handicapped stall and go directly to the pedestrian bridge that takes you to the second level of the mall.

Q. What if I choose not to park in the structure? How far is handicapped parking from the entrance?

A. Each department store, as required by law, will have handicapped spaces as close as they can be, which will be about 50 feet away. At the mall’s north entrance, between Macy’s and JC Penney, the spaces will be about 200 feet away. You will actually have better handicapped parking than you do today.

Q. Have you been able to rethink the bus stop so that it’s not located on the far side of the parking lot?

A. We’re looking at bringing the bus stop closer to the center of the mall and are working with the city to determine the best location. Shuttles for senior housing can stop wherever they want.

Q. Are you getting a subsidy from the city or a tax break for this project?

A. No. We’re paying lots of fees.

Q. What is the expected survival rate of the existing trees that will be transplanted?

A. We don’t expect any trees to fail. We used a lot of criteria to evaluate each tree, including species, design, usage and location. They have to start off attractive and healthy. Some just don’t transplant well and those we will not be using.

Q. Will you be using reclaimed water for landscaping? That’s a lot of money to water that amount of trees.

A. Reclaimed water is not available in that part of the city, but we’ll look into it.

Q. Where will kids be able to play in the expansion? Will there be a merry-go-round?

A. The kids’ play area will be in the food court and will be larger than the play area that’s there now. Merry-go-rounds are great but we just don’t have room for one.

Q. The food court and kids’ play area looks like it will be a big den of noise.

A. There will be other restaurants and places to go, so you won’t have to go there. But mothers will enjoy going there.

Q. Are there any definitive plans for the Discovery Center?

A. No. We’re talking to them. If they can’t find a home, we’ll talk to them about Phase 2 if it happens.

Q. Will there be a stadium seating movie theater?

A. If we’re successful in Phase 2, yes.

Q. Will you allow carts, coffee stands and ice cream stands down the center of the mall, and if so, will they have to conform to some kind of decorator standards?

A. There will be carts, kiosks, but they will be newly designed and well located.

Q. Is anything being done to upgrade the stores?

A. We plan to upgrade the quality of stores and have started already. We’re adding seven to eight more upscale stores this year. The new Nordstrom wing will have 30 new stores on a higher scale.

Q. What will happen with Robinsons-May if the merger with Federated takes place?

A. It’s not a done deal, so I can’t answer that question.

Q. Will any stores close during the renovation?

A. The entire mall remains open during construction. We’re hoping for approval in April. We’d like to start prepping for the Robinsons-May expansion in April.

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