February 26, 2017

Cornerstone Appeal Goes to City Council

On Wednesday night, March 8, the Agoura Hills City Council will hear an appeal of the Cornerstone project, a mixed use development on the the knoll at the South East corner of Cornell and Agoura Roads. Cornerstone is within Zone E of the Agoura Village Plan (AVP) and, as the first project in the AVP, will set a precedent for all projects that follow.

We have several concerns about whether the project is actually consistent with the AVP.

When Cornerstone was first introduced to the city, in 2007 it consisted of 84,457 sq. ft. of mixed used development. The Agoura Village Plan was adopted by the city in October of 2008 after considerable input from residents. But Cornerstone was changed and resubmitted to the city in 2014, this time at 116,776 sq. ft. or 38% larger. None of the charrettes, the meetings that took input from the public before adopting the AVP, ever showed a project of this size in this location. To state that this was the intention of the plan all along is just plain wrong.

Chapter 4, page 46 of the AVP requires that "grading shall be minimized by following the natural contours," and further, "minimize grading on existing slopes and knolls to the greatest extent possible." It also says "Prominent and distinctive natural features of the area shall be preserved and integrated as open space," and development is to be "clustered on less environmentally sensitive areas of the site to maximize open space and resource protection." How important is this particular site? A photograph of the knoll appears in the plan, 4-47, as an example of the unique character of Agoura Hills that is intended to be preserved. In antithesis to this requirement, Cornerstone proposes to grade 75% of the site, removing 92,500 cubic yards of dirt, or 5700 truck loads. In addition, it will remove 29 oak trees and remove 21,271 sq. ft. of scrub oak habitat and endangered plants.

We recognize that development will inevitably impact the natural environment and we still agree with the original vision of the Agoura Village Plan. Perhaps some tweaks need to be made in details of the plan, such as the ratio of housing to commercial development. But the original concept of a pedestrian oriented village that preserves the views and unique natural character of Agoura Hills should remain the objective. The Cornerstone project has many good features and could be a good start to the Village, but only if it respects the intent of the AVP and the natural features of the city and site it wants to occupy.

We suggest that the council not approve the project yet, but instead require a focused Environmental Impact Report to more fully address the adverse impacts and come up with a plan that is consistent with the vision and guidelines of the AVP.