LAGUNA HILLS, CA – The residential project, which broke ground two years ago, is adjacent to the Oakbrook Village retail center, which is undergoing a façade remodel and other improvements.
Both projects are part of the Urban Village Specific Plan, a vision created by the city in 2002 to give a 240-acre area in Laguna Hills a face-lift and more of a downtown, said David Chantarangsu, community development director for Laguna Hills. The new Civic Center area and the future renovation of Laguna Hills Mall are also part of the redevelopment area.
“A downtown is kind of like the social heart of the community and creates a sense of place,” he said.
The redevelopment is part of a larger trend in south Orange County for cities striving to create more of a city center. In Laguna Niguel, plans for the Agora Arts District Downtown Project feature a mixed-use development with specialty retail, restaurants, event space, 200 rental apartments and walkable open space plazas. Lake Forest has undertaken a similar revitalization project along El Toro Road.
APARTMENT COMMUNITY TAKING SHAPE
The Spanish-style residential project, which offers one- and two-bedroom apartments from $1,860 to $2,700 a month, features a sky deck, pool with private cabanas, barbecue and seating areas and an outdoor movie theater. It also has a residential lounge, game room, fitness center and ground-level parking within a gated portion of the building and subterranean parking in the back.
Sarah Klaustermeier, multi-family development manager for Shea Properties, said the apartments will appeal to everyone from college age to empty-nesters. She noted the complex has no playground, but that doesn’t preclude families from living there.
Area residents shopping at Oakbrook Village recently seemed pleased with the development. “More people mean more stores and businesses,” said Tara Gonzales of Laguna Hills. “Good rental spots are needed.”
The apartment complex includes 11,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level, which the company is looking to lease to two restaurants and up to five retail businesses, Klaustermeier said.
A 17,000-square-foot village green with a lawn area, entertainment stage, shaded seating and public art displays will be completed between the Oakbrook Village shopping center and the apartments in the fall. Pedestrian paseos will connect the residential area with the center and the Laguna Hills Mall, Klaustermeier said.
“The attempt is to create a symbiotic relationship where people don’t have to drive to get food, go to restaurants, entertainment or get a haircut,” said Paul Bernard, Fritz Duda’s western region vice president.
“It will be fun to get to see new stuff,” said Laguna Woods resident Gloria Gentile, who has been coming to the shopping center for 10 years. “It’s all positive changes.”
As part of the approved project from the city, Fritz Duda has the option to build another 200 apartment units within 12 years at the site. However, there are no plans taken yet to move forward with that project, Bernard said.
BUSINESSES GETTING A FACE-LIFT
To make room for the new housing, an 86,000-square-foot retail building had to be demolished in the Oakbrook Village shopping center and its tenants relocated to other parts of the center.
The center, owned and operated by Fritz Duda since the late 1970s, is undergoing a redesign to a brighter Spanish-style exterior. The renovation of the 26,000-square-foot building that houses Trader Joe’s and Woody’s Diner has been completed, Bernard said. The building’s dark wooden beams and roof have been replaced with brighter colors, a smooth exterior finish and a Spanish tile roof. “This will make it look like a brand new center,” Bernard said.
In August, work will start on the 52,000-square-foot building housing Marshalls, Mandarin Terrace and Road Runner Sports, along with the building where Calico, a fabric and upholstery store, is located. The renovations are expected to be completed in December.
“It will be nice to have it renovated,” said Jerrad Bresyn, who works at Road Runner Sports. “This area is kind of hidden so more customers couldn’t hurt.”
Some locals are worried about what the housing development will mean for the area.
“It’s too high-density and there will be no parking and a lot of traffic,” said Sharon McNamara, a frequent shopper at Oakbrook Village.
City officials, however, said the added residential units will have no traffic or parking impacts to the shopping center since a commercial building was removed to make room for the apartments. A traffic study actually showed less traffic for the center during peak hours, said Kenneth Rosenfield, city engineer.