PALMDALE — The City Council effectively gave the go-ahead to a mixed-use commercial and residential development featuring apartments, townhomes and a Sprouts Farmers Market near the Antelope Valley Mall.
The Council on Tuesday voted 3-1 to approve a zoning change from commercial to residential use on a portion of the site and a corresponding General Plan amendment, moves necessary to allow the proposed development to proceed.
Mayor Pro Tem Austin Bishop cast the lone dissenting vote, with Councilwoman Laura Bettencourt absent.
Bishop expressed ambivalence about the project, weighing the need for housing against residents’ concerns about traffic, crime and “keeping quality of life for our existing residents who are here now … and not impacting them in any way.”
The center is planned for a vacant 20.55 acre site on the northwest corner of Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P) and 15th Street West, with the retail center on the corner and the majority of the residential units to the north.
It will include 308 apartments, mostly studio and one-bedroom units, and 36 two- to three-bedroom townhouses.
The high-end, gated complex will feature a central recreation building, pool, picnic area and other recreational amenities.
“This will be a resort-style apartment community,” project developer Steve Coyne said, a type not found in the Valley at this time. “You have a need. A very nice apartment is in high demand.”
In addition to the long-awaited Sprouts, the 43,000-square-foot retail center is expected to include service retail, such as a nail salon, restaurants and other establishments.
The proposal drew a crowd to the Council meeting, with nearly two dozen coming forward to comment on the project. The speakers were evenly split between support and opposition.
Especially concerned were residents in the single-family housing development directly to the west of the project site, several of whom spoke in opposition citing concerns regarding traffic, parking, noise and safety.
“Anything that we do there is going to have an impact on the houses immediately to the west,” Mayor Steve Hofbauer said, adding he felt the traffic and parking issues were “more than adequately addressed.”
A primary concern of those in opposition to the project and members of the Council was the traffic impact in an already busy area.
In response to those concerns, Planning Manager Rob Bruce noted that if the site were to be built entirely with commercial development under the existing zoning, the number of daily trips would be nearly twice that of the project as proposed, 7,111 vehicle trips versus 3,685, according to a traffic study.
Improvements at the project site should help traffic flow on 15th Street West, and a city project to fill in the gap on Rancho Vista Boulevard between 15th and 30th streets west to six lanes this fall should help ease congestion on that street, Palmdale Traffic Engineer Bill Padilla said.
While a number of opponents said they had no issue with the retail component, the residential part was deemed by them to be too high density for the parcel and feared they would shift to low-income rentals.
Supporters cited the need for housing of this type to support the growing aerospace, medical and other industries in the area that are drawing new employees, many of whom are the young millennials who find this type of housing attractive.
“We are going to in fact bring housing that is in great need,” Councilman Richard Loa said. “We need to change this opinion that is widely held that Palmdale is not a place for young people to live. We need to change that perception. We need to make a positive impact on this community. We want to make people, young, middle-aged and gray-haired people like us, to say ‘I’m proud to live in Palmdale’.”
“This project will be a step in that direction. It doesn’t solve everything, it’s not going to solve our housing needs, but it’s a step in that direction,” he said.
Coyne said their economic research showed a market demand for 2,000 apartment units, with many employees now living in hotels for a lack of available housing or commuting from elsewhere.
The multi-use center is designed to provide housing, recreation, shopping and restaurants all within walking distance, he said.
Some of those opposing the project expressed concerns about the apartments attracting crime and doubted the local market will support high-end apartments or retail, and that millennials are not interested in living in the Antelope Valley.
“To me, providing a different housing type is the responsible thing to do,” Councilman Juan Carrillo said in response to a group opposing the project called Responsible Growth Palmdale.
He said he could not afford to purchase a single-family home when starting his family and lived in an apartment complex.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting a young family at an apartment complex,” he said. “To me, it isn’t responsible to only provide one type of housing.”
“Things change. We have to adapt to change,” Carrillo said. “Inevitably, we are growing.”