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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

SPECIAL REPORT: Camarillo Rising

Camarillo is kind of like Ventura County’s middle child, bypassed by housing and retail developers for its bigger, denser neighboring cities to the east and west. But with about 1,600 housing units under construction or scheduled to come on the market in the next five years, along with more than 500,000 square feet of retail space, fortunes have shifted for the city. A new highway interchange provides quick access to hitherto-vacant parcels and land use changes have freed more land for development. As a result, builders who have been sitting on entitled projects are starting to dig. Camarillo stands to get so many new homes, townhomes and apartments that they will expand its current residential inventory by 6 percent. Some real estate experts say that’s a lot, but city planners counter that the growth has been accounted for and is controlled by annual quotas set by the city, limiting the number of units. For the last two years, Camarillo has entitled its full quota of market-rate dwellings. Comstock Homes is one developer whose interest in the city peaked in light of the changes. The El Segundo developer bought 43 acres in 2014 about a quarter mile from the city’s Springville Drive off ramp to Highway 101 that were already entitled. The company is building 315 homes and townhomes. An additional 60 affordable-income apartments are under construction there by another builder. Since pre-sales of its homes began in February, Comstock has sold 14 and nearly 280 people came to its mid-April open house to see the models. “We have a strong interest, and our interest list is growing,” said Lisa Harkson, sales manager for the new communities, named Elacora. “Camarillo is a small, quaint town, and it’s a desirable place to live. It has easy access to the freeway and it’s right in the middle of Santa Barbara and L.A.” Growth plans Camarillo planners say there were slow spells during the Great Recession and some years after when nothing was proposed or built. In 2008 and 2009, for instance, no projects were entitled, and only five dwelling units were built between 2009 and 2012. By 2011, 309 projects were entitled. Between 2014 and 2015, nearly 800 dwelling units were entitled while almost 500 were built. Going forward, more entitled projects are starting as interest rates and credit availability are favorable for developers. “It’s not a spike; it’s really balanced growth,” said Joseph Vacca, director of community development, which handles planning. “We’ve managed growth very well historically since adopting growth control. We allow only 400 units per year of allotments. We have all of it – from new rental units to housing for entry-level homeowners and then those that move up. That’s what makes our development well-balanced, and also creates opportunity for a variety of people.” Developer interest has increased as more land has become accessible. Comstock is able to build its homes in the Springville area close to the Springville Drive interchange because of the Springville Specific Plan, approved in 2008 and which changed the land use of nearly 174 acres that once held spinach, lettuce and broccoli – and most recently strawberries, Ventura County’s most valuable crop – to now allow residential and retail. As a result, nearly 450 apartments and condominiums approved for the area will probably start site work later this summer by Development Planning Services in Camarillo, according to the city. A proposal for another roughly 180 single-family homes there by the same builder is under review. The Springville area is also perfect for retail, developers say, thanks to the Springville Drive interchange, which the city finished in 2012. That interchange helped attract L.A. shopping center developer Primestor Development Inc. to obtain majority ownership in early 2014 of a nearly 45-acre parcel on the south side of the 101 that gives it clear visibility from the highway. Primestor, which shares ownership of the land with Westlake Village retail developer Bob Selleck, received its entitlement last month to build a nearly 500,000-square-foot shopping center named Amara. Alan Araki, Primestor’s managing director, said completion of the interchange was a main factor in its decision to get involved in the project. “It is a nice big swath of land available with freeway location in an area proven as a retail destination (because of the success of the Camarillo Premium Outlets and other nearby stores) and with a brand-new freeway interchange, so that provides egress and ingress. There were lots of positives,” he said. Another reason is the influx of housing, Araki said. “Obviously you want people, and obviously the more housing the city builds, the better,” he explained. “This growth is clearly a benefit – not the overriding variable to doing the deal – but a positive.” Selleck is also proposing to build retail adjacent to Amara on another 20 or so acres he bought in 2007 and 2008. The site needs a change to retail from industrial in the city’s General Plan, which Selleck proposes because there’s plenty of industrial space already in Camarillo, he said. Plus, it’s time Camarillo reap the benefits of new retail it lost out on when developers built in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks instead. For example, Shea Properties opened The Collection shopping center in Oxnard in 2012 in conjunction with the RiverPark residential project. In the Thousand Oaks retail market, the Shoppes at Westlake Village opened in 2014. Now the new off-ramp has given Camarillo new relevance. “It wouldn’t have been attractive to retailers if they were just fronting on a freeway; they really needed to have the improved access of being located right at a freeway off-ramp,” Selleck said. “It (Camarillo) just kind of had to wait its turn.” The rezoning of about 20 acres of industrial space once occupied by Imation Corp. in the Village Gateway area, which is divided by Dawson Drive between Pleasant Valley Road and Old Town, opened the door for San Diego developer Fairfield Residential Co.’s 450-unit apartment complex called Andorra. Fairfield is installing the infrastructure for the complex on the property it bought in 2013. It is also selling an adjacent 7 acres to another developer proposing to build about 90 townhomes, but that hasn’t received city entitlements yet. To build Andorra, Fairfield agreed to put in a new road, upgrade the utility lines and sewer system under Lewis Road and give $615,000 to the city’s new water conservation fund for building water-saving projects. Senior Vice President Larry Scott said all that work amounts to about $6 million. The company likes Camarillo’s demographics – an average household income of $119,00 a year, a good school system and a fairly stable local economy, Scott said, plus the difficulty in getting projects entitled and approved. Andorra took four years, he added. “Yes, there’s (other) housing coming, but it’s been 10 years in the making,” Scott said. “The city is very selective and protective of zoning and not a city where it’s easy to get approved, and couple that with concerns for water and availability. We like that we don’t have to worry about a lot of competing supply coming in to Camarillo.” Additionally, Scott said, Camarillo’s rental market conditions – low vacancies, low supply and a high median home price – make it a “very favorable climate for apartment development.” Bedroom community With so much industrial property shifting to housing and shopping centers, there’s almost nothing left for new industrial buildings. “Developers are building what they think will sell; apartments have performed so ridiculously well, why go away from that?” said Paul Farry, a senior vice president with L.A.-based brokerage CBRE Group Inc. “We perceive an imbalance in that, where do these people work? What do they do? They go somewhere else for a job because there’s no more industrial development.” Camarillo has entitled more than 580,000 square feet of proposed industrial projects, but none of it is going to be built anytime soon, according to city planners. That may be because of a lack of foreseeable demand. John Fraser, a senior management analyst with the city said filling industrial space has been a challenge. “There are a number of industrial projects that went up at the wrong time and have never been occupied,” Fraser said. “We have more industrial office space available than we’d like. It’s not a case of people fleeing Camarillo for greener pastures, but just the stock of new units going unfilled. And we still have a healthy number of units not occupied because of the Great Recession.” According to Farry, industrial buildings in the city are not the right kind for today’s tenants. Many contain too much mezzanine office space. And there’s a lack of tenant interest in Camarillo. The city, unlike Simi Valley, Moorpark and the Conejo Valley, doesn’t have a tight industrial market, said John DeGrinis, senior executive vice president with Colliers International in Encino. “The Camarillo market for industrial is very different – for some reason we don’t see a flood of people willing to come down the (Conejo) grade,” DeGrinis said. “If someone is looking at 40,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet, there are 10 alternatives to look at in Camarillo. In Simi Valley there’s one. In Moorpark there are none and in the Conejo Valley there are none. And in the San Fernando Valley, there is nothing.” Water worries One small developer sees the potential for office space in Camarillo – medical office, that is. Carol D’Egidio has applied to the city to build two medical office buildings and some retail on the roughly 1 acre corner parcel her uncle and her father bought in the 1980s. She said her uncle had a knack for picking out highly marketable properties and loved the site at Oak Canyon and Santa Rosa roads because it’s across from an assisted living facility. He also thought Camarillo had solid growth potential. D’Egidio is proposing the offices and maybe a bank and a restaurant for roughly 9,000 square feet, she said. “He (my uncle) was an amazing judge of buying property,” D’Egidio said. “One of the things he said about this area – ‘there’s an assisted living home across the street, and this would be good place to have a little center.’” D’Egidio is waiting to hear from the local water purveyor whether there’s enough water to build. “You develop now based on having limited water,” she said. “You have to have landscaping that’s going to be drought tolerant and have to meet criteria. They determine what your water allowance is.” California’s five-year drought may curtail future development, say Camarillo planners. “With the continued drought and potential water restriction from the state, we don’t know how that may impact those projects that are not fully entitled,” Vacca said.

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