estled at the base of Ladyface Mountain on Agoura Road just west of Reyes Adobe, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is among the largest philanthropic organizations in the United States. A legacy of the famous hotelier, the Hilton Foundation supports global health, education, and safe water access in developing countries and, closer to home, works with city and county officials to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles. In the first quarter of 2018, the Hilton Foundation has awarded over $13 million in grants. (For more information: https://www.hiltonfoundation.org)
Impressive as that may be, the organization is also a unique asset to the community and a good neighbor. The headquarters building sets an example of functional architecture that is attractive, environmentally sensitive to its surroundings, and at the forefront of energy efficiency.
The current headquarters building was designed to exceed the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Platinum certification. Among its characteristics are solar power generation, a gravity driven climate control system that minimizes energy use, a stormwater recovery and storage system, and the use of recycled water for irrigation and lavatory flushing. Remarkably, the building is heated and cooled naturally, without a gas furnace or air conditioning units. In short, its impacts on the environment have been reduced. Architects and design engineers from all over the world have come to tour and learn more about the facility.
A Need to Expand
When the Foundation acquired its 43-acre site, additional buildings were planned for the organization's anticipated expansion. The additional structures were already approved by the City of Agoura Hills, with the understanding that development at the site would occur in phases. However, the Foundation's leadership has now re-imagined the campus in several ways because:
- The proposed construction would have required the removal of several established coastal oaks and other native plants.
- The new buildings would be quite visible as they rose up the slope of Ladyface Mountain.
- Geological and cultural mitigations had to be considered.
Instead, the Foundation has taken a "clean sheet of paper" approach to its expansion. They sought to minimize the impacts on the environment, preserve the oaks and consolidate the infrastructure support systems for the campus. A new proposal was created to:
Does the Proposal Comply With City Development Policies?
- Locate the new building on the site of the current parking lot.
- Put all of the parking underground.
- Achieve a "net zero" energy rating, well in advance of the state's target date of 2030, using solar power and advanced technology climate control systems that seek to save cool night temperatures for use during the day.
- Erect a landscaped berm along Agoura Road to shield much of the structure from view to passing traffic.
One of the key guidelines to development in Agoura Hills has been a policy that states, "Let the land dictate the use." The new Hilton Foundation campus plan seems to adhere to that intent, by leaving the stand of oaks intact and the hillside free of development. There are two areas where consideration must be given to deviation from the city's development standards:
1. The setback from Agoura Road is proposed at 90 feet, where the existing code would require 100 feet. Mitigating factors include a berm that would shield the parking structure portion of the building from view at road level and landscaping that would further screen the structure.
2. The proposed height of the building would exceed the city's current 35-foot limit. This occurs because of the multi-level underground parking and a need for three levels of office space. Significantly, the taller building would actually be less visible from homes north of the freeway than the previously approved buildings which would have been placed much higher on the hillside.
Agoura Hills Tomorrow believes that the Foundation's requests have merit. While we have ardently stood by the city's 35-foot height limit, previous applications for variances have most often been for commercial visibility such as signage, building identification through architectural elements like clock towers or additional stories to maximize leasable space. The Hilton Foundation proposal is for none of these reasons. Instead, their application appears to be driven by environmental concerns - preservation of the hillside and consolidating the campus while minimizing its footprint. These are good reasons to consider a variance.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is a community asset any city would be proud to have. Its commitment to philanthropy throughout the world speaks for itself. The commitment it has to Agoura Hills as a good neighbor and as an example of what is possible through environmental stewardship and leading-edge building technology sets it apart from the routine applications often received at the city's planning desk. For these reasons, it is our opinion that full consideration should be given to the Foundation's Agoura Road campus proposal.