2011-06-09 / Front Page

Impacts are ‘significant,’ ‘unavoidable’

Report outlines effects of Thousand Oaks Boulevard improvements
By Michelle Knight

FUTURE GRIDLOCK?—Drivers pass through the intersection of Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Hampshire Road on Monday afternoon. A study shows that traffic at the signal will increase if parts of the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan are approved without adding additional lanes and widening the road. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers FUTURE GRIDLOCK?—Drivers pass through the intersection of Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Hampshire Road on Monday afternoon. A study shows that traffic at the signal will increase if parts of the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan are approved without adding additional lanes and widening the road. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers A plan by business owners to reshape the face of Thousand Oaks Boulevard would significantly impede traffic flow at several major intersections, according to an environmental impact report released last week.

The traffic impacts could be lessened, but the mitigation work at two of the intersections—T.O Boulevard at Hampshire Road and T.O. Boulevard at Rancho Road—would be at odds with the objectives of the plan, the study says.

The Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan seeks to change land-use and design standards for 345 acres on and near the city’s main thoroughfare from Moorpark Road to Duesenberg Drive. For years, according to the city, attitude surveys have shown that the residents’ top goal is improving the boulevard.

The environmental report, which was prepared by Impact Sciences in Camarillo and paid for by Thousand Oaks, says the only way to avoid future traffic snarls at the Hamshire and Rancho intersections would be for T.O. to acquire more property, widen roads and forego some of the pedestrian-friendly amenities—such as wider sidewalks and increased landscaping—meant to make the boulevard more attractive to foot traffic.

“If this right of way is acquired, the improvements would eliminate existing landscaping and would potentially conflict with objectives of the Specific Plan,” the report reads.

Among the changes the plan recommends are fewer parking restrictions, increased building height and a mix of retail and residential developments on the boulevard that could add some 600,000 square feet of commercial space and 375 dwellings not possible under current General Plan guidelines.

The study indicates that most of the impacts of the increased development—such as noise, aesthetics and water supply—could be effectively mitigated, but not the impacts on traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.

Traffic impact

According to the report, traffic congestion during the evening rush hour at four intersections—Hampshire Road and T.O. Boulevard, Rancho Road and T.O., Westlake Boulevard and T.O., and Hillcrest and Skyline drives—would degrade below current city standards if the plan is implemented without mitigation measures.

On a six-level scale ranging from A to F, Thousand Oaks has established Level C, or “good,” as the minimum traffic threshold at signal intersections. Level A is considered excellent traffic flow, where no vehicle has to wait longer than one red light to pass through, while Level F is traffic failure where congestion is so bad it backs up onto cross streets.

At T.O. Boulevard and Rancho Road, the report said, congestion would plunge from Level A to D; at Westlake Boulevard, from B to D; and at Skyline and Hillcrest drives, from C to D. At Hampshire Road and T.O. Boulevard, traffic circulation would dive from Level C to D during morning rush hour and to F in the evening.

With mitigation measures recommended in the report, no intersection would fall under Level C. But the measures required at the Hampshire and Rancho intersections are at odds with the specific plan’s goals, making the impacts “significant and unavoidable,” according to the report.

John Prescott, community development director, said in an interview with the Acorn last week that city staff wasn’t surprised by the results of the traffic study because previous studies revealed problematic intersections. The city was built with few thoroughfares, putting more pressure on main roads like T.O. and Hillcrest.

“We probably have a little bit lower traffic threshold than other communities,” Prescott said.

According to Prescott, the City Council will eventually have to decide whether to forgo some amenities and widen roads to improve traffic or lower the city’s traffic flow standards. He said although the basic standard is Level C, the council has allowed for a Level D in certain circumstances.

“At the end of the day the City Council can decide, ‘Well, we know that’s our standard, but in this case, because of these benefits, we’re going to approve something that will create level service D or so at intersections,’” Prescott said.

Rick Principe, chair of the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Building Improvement District, said although he has yet to read the entire report, he wasn’t surprised by the traffic findings. He said the plan has been in the works for years and was shaped by input from property owners, residents and the city, adding that any issues raised in the report likely can be resolved.

“We probably have conformed to most of what the city wants and the requirements,” Principe said. “Certainly we’re willing to (be flexible)— to make it so that everyone’s happy. ”

The Thousand Oaks Boulevard Association submitted the specific plan to the city in 2009 as a means to revitalize and beautify the boulevard. The City Council gave conceptual approval to the association’s objectives, and last year city staff began working with Impact Sciences to prepare the environmental report and analyze in detail the impact the plan would have on air quality, traffic, aesthetics, biological and cultural resources, geology, land use, noise, public services and solid waste.

The association, which is composed of property owners including the City of Thousand Oaks, created the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Business Improvement District to collect self-imposed taxes to pay for the specific plan and some boulevard improvements.

Building heights

The specific plan would allow buildings along the boulevard to reach a maximum average height of 55 feet, the equivalent of four stories, as opposed to the current 35-foot limit.

But buildings could reach as tall as 75 feet under the plan if boulevard property owners agreed to make certain public improvements.

“There’s an incentive program in the plan: If they add more public amenities they get points, and some of the points could be used to increase the height,” said Haider Alawami, senior planner with the city. “That’s up for evaluation at this time.”

Mark Towne, the city’s deputy director of community development, said buildings 55 feet or higher could obstruct views of distant ridgelines such as the Santa Monica Mountains, so decisions on those projects will be made on a “case-by-case basis.”

“Any buildings (proposed) over 55 feet would have to go through a special review,” Towne said.

The plan also states that any building over two stories must have top levels set back to provide visual interest.

“So (the buildings) are not going to go straight up,” Alawami said. “There will be vertical relief.”

Public comment

The draft environmental report is available on the city’s website or by calling city planner Rick Burgess at (805) 449-2326.

The public as well as agencies affected by the specific plan can submit comments on the twovolume draft report through July 11 to Burgess at City of Thousand Oaks Community Development Department, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91362, or via email at rburgess@toaks.org.

The planning commission and City Council have scheduled a joint study session on the draft environmental report and proposed specific plan for June 21. The city will respond to all environmental impact report comments in preparing the final report, which will be reviewed by the planning commission and certified by the City Council.

A public hearing on the T.O. Boulevard Specific Plan might be scheduled for September. The plan also must go before the planning commission and City Council for approval.

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