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  • Jason Tuvia

Westfield Topanga breaks ground on $350 million Village project

With the scoop of a shovel on Monday, the Westfield Village at Topanga signaled what the developer and city officials promise will be a seismic shift in the cultural and retail landscape of the West San Fernando Valley.

Westfield Group, the developers of the $350 million project, which has received widespread community support, invited more than 200 people to the event at the Crate & Barrel parking lot in Warner Center. Westfield officials brought 150 shovels, made a big dirt pile and invited attendees to scoop up a shovel full of dirt.

The Village, which survived a lengthy approval process and a lawsuit by the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, is the first in the West Valley to be based on a pedestrian-friendly open air environment rather than a climate-controlled enclosed mall. It will be anchored by a Costco and a gas station.

“What a day. Finally, we are here,” Larry Green, the company’s senior vice president, said. “No more meetings, no more hearings. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The importance of this project was recognized throughout the city.”

The Woodland Hills-Tarzana Chamber of Commerce was an early supporter and Diana Williams, the chamber’s executive director and CEO was happy to see progress finally being made.

“I’m elated. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’re so glad we’re getting jobs here,” she said.

Backers believe the Village will rival The Grove in West Los Angeles and the Americana at Brand in Glendale.

“Its huge. It’s really going to be best in class. It’s going to be a destination and that’s the thing to remember,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the Woodland Hills area where the Village is located. “It’s not just for us in the West Valley but for folks from Thousand Oaks, Agoura and the Westside.”

The project is already under way and the company has completed grading and temporarily relocated trees that will become part of the landscaping.

The Village is being built on 30 acres between Owensmouth Avenue on the east, Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the west, Victory Boulevard on the north and Erwin Street on the south. It will flanked on the north by Westfield Topanga and on the southside by Westfield Promenade, two of the area’s other malls.

The company bought the site in 1994.

The project will create about 1,400 construction jobs and 1,500 direct jobs once it is completed, company spokeswoman Katy Dickey said. There will be about 100 businesses at the complex, including boutiques and restaurants. It will also have a space for community groups to use.

Traffic was an early concern but most of those were addressed, said Scott Silverstein, president of the Woodland Hills-Warner Center Neighborhood Council.

“We still have a concern about traffic from the gas station but the project is served by so many driveways that it won’t be an issue,” he said.

To handle traffic issues, Westfield included:

• Additional traffic lanes along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Victory Boulevard and portions of Owensmouth Avenue and Erwin Street.

• Additional right- and left-hand turn pockets will be added at approximately 10 different locations around the project.

• A landscaped median will be constructed along Victory Boulevard between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Owensmouth Avenue.

• New traffic signals will be installed at a number of locations including Topanga Canyon and Victory boulevards and there will be approximately nine driveways into and out of the site.

The groundbreaking came a week after Westfield announced the settlement of the suit filed against the city over the approval process for the Village. The city has not commented on the settlement of the lawusit.

During the heavy construction portion of the build-out, city-approved dirt hauling routes have been used for the past several months. Trucks travel south on Owensmouth Avenue, west on Erwin Street, south on Topanga Canyon Boulevard and onto the 101 Freeway.

Construction workers have lots of parking space on the construction site, Dickey said.

The parking structure, which will be in the center of the project, should start “coming out of the ground” this summer, he said.

Framing of the complex will start in the fall and the company anticipates turning the space over to tenants for their completion in the first quarter of next year when all the shops are expected to open by the fall of 2015.

When initially proposed the Village was about a $500 million project but a hotel component has been delayed.

Earlier this month the Los Angeles City Council approved a $59 million tax break for the project.

The homeowners’ organization was the only major opposition to the project and it has been approved by the neighborhood council.

“We’re looking for a project that will clearly put Woodland Hills on the map as one of the premiere places to live in the Valley, much less Los Angeles,” Silverstein said.

Blumenfield said the city requested that Westfield establish a $3.2 million fund to address any future traffic-related issues that have not already been identified. Visitors to the project will be able to park at Westfield’s Topanga or Promenade properties and take shuttles to the Village.

“This has been done in line with the Warner Center Specific Plan. We incorporated the community values, the pedestrian values and the livability values into it,” he said of the city’s input into the Village. “It’s part of the liveable, modern city that we aspire to.”

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