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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

‘Moderate Luxury Housing’ in Warner Center

The Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan has created a residential buildup with twin goals – fortify Woodland Hills as the future downtown of the San Fernando Valley and address the statewide housing shortage.On the cross-streets intersecting Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Canoga Avenue and other major thoroughfares, developers including California Home Builders and Amcal Multi Housing Co. are erecting thousands of residential units in mixed-use projects.One of those endeavors is the 277-unit Vert, a live/work lofts project developed by Evolution Strategic Partners at 6606 Variel Ave. in Canoga Park. Vert should be complete by late October. Todd Pratt developed Evolution Strategic Partners in the late 1990s, formerly known as Chandler Pratt. Based in Studio City, Evolution developed the work-live lofts site overseen by project manager Todd Acalin. “We finished the project in August. It’s in full lease-up now, despite COVID,” Pratt told the Business Journal. “It’s very successful, on budget (at just under $90 million).”Urban Architecture Lab’s Neil Silberstein, project architect on Vert, told the Business Journal that this multifamily complex received its temporary certificate of occupancy in August.“They’ve done these types of projects,” Silberstein told the Business Journal. “They haven’t done it at this level. It’s moderate luxury housing.”Inside VertThe Vert building’ entrance features a glass-box atrium with spiral staircase and elevator that connects to all of the amenities, including a mail room with refrigerated boxes, a leasing office and a café. “It’s going to feel more like a hotel,” Silberstein explained.Playful accents of color at the window box frames soften the buildings’ exterior structure. Inside, a corridor with strategically placed windows shields the residential units from the adjacent industrial properties. All residential parking is hidden behind and below the building frontage. Inside, the loft apartments have 16-foot-high ceilings basking in urban modern aesthetics with polished concrete floors, exposed ceilings, walls offering one of two color schemes, and four different sky ducts plus unobstructed San Fernando Valley views from the penthouse level.  “It has amazing views, especially facing west and southwest,” said Silberstein, a West Hills resident. “Everybody has a balcony. Everybody has the greatest view.”In addition to a balcony, each unit will have its own Wi-Fi coverage to allow for indoor/outdoor working space.Standing on a lot area totaling 81,920 square feet, the units will offer a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom lofts. Square-footage ranges from 524 to 602 studios up to 1,400 square feet three-bedroom units. Once open, Vert will offer ground level work/live lofts. The live/work units have glass garage doors that allow inside-outside play for designers and professionals working from home, which is “becoming a paradigm now,” Silberstein said.The site also offers 344 parking spaces, including electric vehicle charging spaces, guest parking and bicycle parking. The open plaza’s oversized illuminated poppy art sculptures complement the landscaping.The sustainable 277-unit mixed-use housing development stands in the Warner Center zone, just a short walk from the Orange line Bus Expressway. Urban Architecture Lab has not worked on many North Los Angeles projects. However, one of their assignments in the Tri-Cities area is a formidable one: LaTerra Development’s 777 Front Street project — 573 apartments with a 307-key hotel and transit plaza park with bridge that is currently under construction in Burbank.“They’re going to be doing it in stages,” Silberstein said — two phases of residential, followed by the hotel and then a park across from the old IKEA site at Burbank and Magnolia Boulevards.Building slowdownWork on Vert began in September 2017, and sliding into 2020, Vert ran into COVID-produced headwinds, including inspection delays, downsized construction crews and other things the held up the project by a few months.“We did have a four-month COVID delay,” Pratt said. “We were going to deliver last April on opening the building.” Working on a project complying with the Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan means “different layers of agency approval,” Silberstein added.There were some extra steps when going through the parallel design and permit process. “It’s a more extensive entitlement,” Silberstein said. “We must have had half a dozen meetings one-on-one with the Planning Department to go through a pretty extensive checklist that were requirements for approval. … The developer did want to go through the neighborhood council to get community support.”Imminent debutEven before its late-2020 grand opening, Vert is off to a strong start. The project already won Architecture Institute of America’s San Fernando Valley’s Citation Award for Commercial Mixed-Use in 2019. “It’s right in line with what we do,” Silberstein said of his firm, which typically designs market rate and affordable housing projects.“Our office specializes in a lot of urban infill projects,” Silberstein said. (Urban Architect Lab founder) “Richard (Solares) had dabbled in real estate development for a while. He has sat on both sides of the fence.”Silberstein also personally saw to it that Vert would have an environmental integrity.“It’s really rewarding to create these places for people in the community to use that tap into this current and future notion to be able to work from any place,” Silberstein said.Evolution Strategic is currently closing escrow on properties in Los Angeles and has a mixed-use project in development in Long Beach. While Evolution does not have any other projects currently in the works in the North L.A. market, Pratt exhibited a good amount of pride regarding Vert.“At 277 units, this is the largest project to date for our company,” Pratt said.

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.

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