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By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter Agoura Hills is emerging as a new development hot spot, as prime locations in Westlake Village and Calabasas become scarce. Of the three fast-growing Conejo Valley cities, Agoura Hills has been somewhat of a laggard. Westlake Village has benefited from Ventura County sprawl southward, and Calabasas has benefited from San Fernando Valley sprawl northward. But Agoura Hills, sandwiched in between Calabasas and Westlake Village, is just now catching fire. About half of the 700 acres of commercially zoned land in Agoura Hills has been developed so far. But the city now has another 1.8 million square feet of commercial projects in the pipeline. If and when all that space is built, only 15 percent to 20 percent of the city’s commercial land will remain undeveloped, said David Anderson, city planning and community services director. “There’s a strong attraction to the area,” Anderson said. “Agoura Hills is an area along the freeway corridor where property is undeveloped and highly visible, a rare commodity along the 101.” From a housing standpoint, Agoura Hills is a more-mature market. It was built out residentially in the 1980s and is now considering a slow-growth proposal that would stop further residential development on the city’s hillsides. But the city is aggressively marketing its commercially zoned land, located along a shallow strip paralleling the Ventura (101) Freeway corridor, to developers. And with freeway-adjacent land in scarce supply in other Conejo Valley cities, developers are receptive to the pitch. “The Agoura Hills market is seeing a lot of activity because it’s long overdue,” said Tony Principe, vice president of Westcord Commercial Real Estate Services of Westlake Village. “All the other cities are built out, or close to it.” Further encouraging the Agoura Hills development boom are the robust economy and office vacancy rates of between 3 percent and 5 percent, Principe said. At the current rate of growth, Agoura Hills could be almost totally built out within two years, Principe said. The 1.8 million square feet of commercial space currently in the city’s pipeline is more than twice the amount currently under development in Calabasas or Westlake Village. While Calabasas is seeing one of its busiest years, according to director of city planning and building services Mark Persico, only 400,000 square feet of office and industrial space is under construction in the city and another 210,000 square feet is set for approval. “We are very busy and I don’t see it slowing down,” Persico said. Unlike Agoura Hills, Calabasas has had steady development, with a couple hundred thousand square feet of space under construction almost consistently since the city incorporated in 1991. But the amount of undeveloped commercially zoned land, also concentrated along the Ventura Freeway corridor, is becoming scarce. “It’s probably going to end in three to four years,” Persico said. “The city is fairly built out in retail/industrial space.” Meanwhile, Westlake Village officials report a similar trend in their city, which has about 500,000 square feet of commercial space either under construction or in the planning stages, according to Robert Theobald, Westlake Village planning director. That’s considerably more than the 150,000 square feet or so that typically has been under development in previous years. “Since the mid-’90s, it’s been a fairly brisk pace for development,” said Theobald. “We anticipate within the next 10 years, we’ll reach build-out.” A plan adopted by Westlake Village in 1989 specifies that 1.4 million square feet of office and industrial space are to be developed on 130 open acres of city land. So far, 700,000 square feet of that has been developed. So Agoura Hills remains the city with the most available commercial land remaining in the Conejo Valley, primarily because of its location, not as close to L.A. as Calabasas and not as close to Ventura as Westlake Village. Also deterring developers from targeting Agoura Hills, until now, has been the city’s relatively small lot sizes, typically two to five acres, Anderson said. But with available land fading fast elsewhere, developers have been more willing to work with smaller lots or combine lots, sometimes buying out nearby businesses just to get the underlying land. In response, Agoura Hills’ commercial lease rates are slowly rising. With very little new space currently available in the city, top office space typically runs $1.65 to $1.85 a square foot, per month, Principe said. Once the new space is completed, Principe said, it will likely lease for as much as comparable class-A space in Calabasas and Thousand Oaks, $1.85 to $2.15 a square foot. But while commercial development is heating up in Agoura Hills, don’t expect it to look anything like Ventura Boulevard or Warner Center in the near future. Its commercial market consists primarily of suburban-style, pastel stucco buildings, rather than glass structures. Those buildings only shallowly line the Ventura Freeway corridor. And that’s unlikely to change, because of federal and state mountain reserves and growth-control proposals for the city’s hillsides. These are the very characteristics that Agoura Hills is using to market itself to potential developers. “A lot of what we’ve done is try to generate a higher-end image,” Anderson said. “The city is semi-rural, low-profile.”

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