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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

SELLECK—Agoura Biz to City: Hell No to Home Depot

A brouhaha over a proposed shopping center in Agoura Hills is taking some unusual twists. Unlike most development battles that pit business against environmental groups and community residents, this feud has business facing off against business, it has those against the project suggesting that the city council pass a law curtailing development without voter approval, and it has at least one local resident leveling some pretty extreme charges against city officials. The ruckus revolves around a proposal by Selleck Development Group to build a 255,000-square-foot shopping center on the south side of Agoura Road between Kanan and Reyes Adobe roads, a 24-acre parcel that was deemed blighted and earmarked for commercial redevelopment about five years ago. Selleck has acquired all but one of the parcels needed for the development and reached a tentative agreement with Home Depot to anchor the center with a 139,000-square-foot store. The developer has also held discussions with a gourmet market, day care center and other, smaller retail shops, and is working on an environmental impact report and other studies the city requires to evaluate the project. But even before those reports are complete, a group spearheaded by four businesses and one private citizen has begun a campaign to prevent Home Depot from moving in by taking the issue directly to voters. The group, which calls itself Citizens for Responsible Growth, wants to pass a law prohibiting retail stores larger than 60,000 square feet from being built in the area. Such a law would effectively block any big box store, Home Depot in particular. What makes the Agoura Hills initiative different is it is aimed at a parcel that was earmarked for retail with the blessing of the community and led, not by environmentalists, but by a handful of businesses that fear the competition posed by Home Depot. “In Agoura Hills right now there’s a Do It Center, there’s a Roadside Lumber, there’s a Fence Factory, there’s a fashion door company and an Agoura building materials company,” said Mel Adams, the owner of Agoura Equipment Rentals and Supplies Inc., and one of the founding members of Citizens for Responsible Growth. “If Home Depot comes in, every one of those stores would be gone because they can’t compete with them.” Daniel F. Selleck, president of the company that bears his name, has reached agreements to purchase all but one of the parcels he needs for his proposed $40 million development. Adams is the last holdout. He claims that Selleck has made no attempt to negotiate with him. “He has told me flat he will not move me,” Adams said. “That the city will take my property with eminent domain and he refuses to negotiate.” But Selleck counters that he has held many meetings with the landowner, one of five that control the parcel he needs for his development. “I’ve probably been in Mel’s office on his site at least one-half dozen times,” said Selleck. “I’ve had at least four meetings with Mel and various representatives of his, including his attorney and CPA, in my office. I have entered escrow on another piece of property in the city of Agoura Hills and attempted to relocate Mel onto that site, which did not work out,” Selleck said, adding, “in case there is any miscommunication, I plan to give Mel a call and let him know I’m available.” At least one of those meetings was attended by Agoura Hills City Manager Dave Adams. “In my presence, there was a meeting where we all jointly talked about the sites,” he said. Traditionally, the job of approving or rejecting new developments falls to a city’s planning department and city council, but communities are increasingly turning to the ballot box in their fight against development and the traffic and other problems they think many of these projects bring. But even before the city has had a chance to review the project, Citizens for Responsible Growth has set up a Web site, Saveagoura.com, hired a spokesman and a land attorney and claims to have recruited hundreds more local residents to its cause. The group claims that any large development on the site would adversely affect the character of the community and create traffic congestion. And it says it is unwilling to leave a decision on the project in the hands of city government. “We just wanted to put that type of power back to the people’s hands,” said Al Abrams, a Tarzana resident who was hired by Citizens for Responsible Growth as their spokesman. “When you’re dealing with something that’s of such huge size, that has such an impact on the character of the town, it’s something the people of the city should be involved with.” At the same time, Abrams said the group intends to ask the city council to sign off on its new law without any vote at all. “We intend to go to the city council and say, ‘We know we’ve got the signatures to win. We’d like you to consider just signing this into law,”‘ Abrams said. Dan Crisafuli, one of the group’s founding members, believes the city has not been forthcoming in its negotiations with Selleck. “The city of Agoura Hills is a cloak-and-dagger government that does not let the citizens know what is going on behind closed doors,” said Crisafuli, the only private citizen in the anti-development group. “If you try to get information that’s public record, they hide it from you.” For its part, the city points out that the group is jumping the gun. Since Selleck made an initial application for the development in February, officials have asked him to respond to about 30 different points and questions, and it has not yet received the reports it needs to proceed with public hearings and the other steps that govern the planning process. Until they get the report, there’s not much to discuss. We have an incomplete application,” said Adams. Both Selleck and city officials say it is curious that the group spearheading the protest is made up of businesses that sell or rent many of the same products carried at Home Depot. In addition, they say, the area in question was previously approved for commercial development. “There was a whole series of public hearings in 1995 and 1996,” said Adams. “There’s no reason to suspect an outcry at this point.” Selleck is continuing to work on the required studies, and he expects to submit a completed application for the project in the next two months. “We’re hoping in the next 30 or 40 days to submit the EIR,” said Selleck, who is himself a resident of Agoura Hills. The report would detail the potential traffic the new development would draw and the number of oak trees which would have to be cut down oak trees are protected in Agoura Hills along with other potential consequences of the project. Selleck said he has held few meetings with homeowners because the full study is not yet complete, but already he has reduced the size of the development to limit the number of trees that would be affected and he is offering up to 24 acres of open space as part of a plan to relocate a Los Angeles County animal shelter which currently sits on the redevelopment site. The area is a half mile from the nearest home and, if redeveloped, could provide what city officials estimate would be about $700,000 annually, or a 25 percent increase in sales tax revenues, funding that is badly needed to widen roads such as the Kanan interchange at the Ventura (101) Freeway and the two-lane Kanan and Adobe Reyes bridges, which cannot accommodate the current traffic in the area. “There seems to be a concerted effort to quash this effort of even evaluating the project,” said Jeff Reinhardt, Agoura Hills city councilman. “I guess that’s something that’s within their right to do, but it seems to me there’s more to it than what they’re telling the general public.”

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