by Kevin Harris
The Thousand Oaks City Council approved a large, mixed use project that will bring hundreds of new apartment units, a large hotel, and will revamp the city’s historic Timber Tree School House during Tuesday night’s meeting. Some critics, however, worry that the “Daylight Project” (named after the developer, Daylight Thousand Oaks, LLC) will also bring parking and traffic woes, along with an unnecessary hotel to an already saturated market, and could ruin their quiet, residential neighborhood.
ITEM 8A – PUBLIC HEARING
Mixed-Use Project at 1872 Newbury Road (Timber School)
During a presentation given by Senior Planner Nizar Slim, was a full detailing and review of the project, including an opportunity for questions from the council.
At issue before the city council – a resolution approving a General Plan amendment – a zone change, along with other technical specifics, changing the designation at 1872 Newbury Road, from “Commercial” to “Commercial/Residential.” This will allow Daylight Thousand Oaks to build a multi-building residential complex (218 apartment units), a 3-story, 120-room hotel, and to restore the two existing buildings that were the historic Timber Tree School House. The 9.67-acre parcel is located at the corner of Newbury & East Kelley Roads.
The Daylight Project – two years in the making, goes back to October, 2019, when the General Plan Amendment and the 218 residential unit allocation was proposed and passed by the city council. Then in early 2020, the council met with Daylight Thousand Oaks, LLC, who began submitting formal applications.
In its final form that was debated and voted on Tuesday night, the Daylight Project was an impressive complex envisioned in mission revival style architecture – the culmination of a seasoned private developer and the public concerns of the city council, working together wherever possible to the furtherance of the goals of both parties.
With the final proposal of the Daylight Project, the developer would get his apartment complex and hotel planted in prime, Conejo Valley real estate, where apartment rents continue to climb, and vacancies hover near zero. He would also benefit from about $3 million in local redevelopment funds, which will widen sidewalks, plant new trees, and add new street lighting around the project site. The city council received 26 low-income units (out of 218 total units); more affordable housing for the area’s blossoming, young biotech work force; and the restoration of its most beloved and historic structure.
Following the presentation, city council members chimed in with their questions and comments.
Both Mayor Pro Tem Bob Engler and Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Pena asked city staff whether the project’s buildings will include solar panels or other alternative energy sources. Mr. Slim responded by saying that “it has been stated by the applicant that these buildings will be solar panel ready. So the roofs are designed to take on solar paneling.” He said that if they want a more specific answer than that, however, they should defer to the city’s building officials.
Community Development Director Kelvin Parker added that the structures in question are mid-sized buildings, and per state law are already required to have solar panels included. He also said that there is a narrow legal opening for the developer to “opt-out” of including solar panels, “but that’s an extremely narrow scope, and the restrictions are such that typically these buildings are built with solar in mind.”
Representatives for the applicant, Daylight Thousand Oaks LLC, then had their chance to speak and to answer questions. Tim Gallager, who was there in person and masked (as were the rest of the city council members) started with a brief presentation, offering what he called the three main benefits of his project. “The restoration of the historic Timber School Buildings…, The development of the apartment project that’s medium density and contains 26 affordable units…, and finally the development of a hotel that many visitors to the city’s burgeoning bio technology business would love to stay at,” he told the council. Gallagher also said that the developer will complete many of the public improvements along Kelley Road “that residents have desired for years,” such as sidewalk expansion.
Mayor Pro Tem Engler then presented Mr. Gallagher the same question he asked city staff earlier, about whether the project will have solar panels and EV charging stations when construction is completed. According to Mr. Gallagher, “the EV charging stations will be, at construction permitting time, at whatever the city construction code is at the time, but I gotta say, this is a developer who has exceeded the parking requirements, exceeded the landscape requirements, exceeded the open space requirements. I think it’s a safe bet they’ll exceed whatever the clean energy requirements the city has.”
Mayor de la Pena also reiterated her question about whether solar panels would be installed by the applicant upon construction. Mr. Gallagher said, “That’s correct, to whatever the city code is at that time.” The Mayor then countered that “It is a state requirement, so regardless of what the city code is… it will have to be installed.”
There were several residents who spoke on the issue. Many called in and spoke per video to the council.
Jackson Piper: Newbury Park resident, 30 years. Said he is very interested in seeing more affordable housing options developed in the county, because he is 38 years old and still living with his parents. “I think this is a very good project that will bring a lot to the city of Thousand Oaks, and it sets a good aesthetic standard,” he said.
Rosanna Gara: Thousand Oaks resident since 1993. “Housing must be viewed through the lens of how it serves the older adult population, and the disabled,” she said. She pointed out that current demographics shows more older adults in the population, which means and increased need for affordable housing.
Tim McDougal: Newbury Park resident, 20 years. Supports the project and believes it will benefit the area. “This may be the highest and the best use of the land and our most historic public building,” he said. He asked the council to vote in favor of the plan.
Andrew Garrow: Said he supports the project because of the beneficial size variety of units to be offered by the apartment building. “As a resident the most important thing to me here is that this project provides an opportunity for a variety of people to call Thousand Oaks home. Whether those are young professionals or college students or even seniors, I really appreciate that this project could provide for all of those,” he said.
Mitchell Schwartz: (Spoke in person). Lives next to the proposed project, and is a 28-year local resident. “I’ve watched as the small town feeling of living in Thousand Oaks has begun to erode, and hope that the city council uses its powers to do the right thing, and not let that happen,” he said. He called the proposed hotel with the project “unnecessary.” He pointed to the problem of adding hundreds of cars from the apartments and hotel to the corner of Kelley and Newbury Road, and suggested that “maybe the hotel would be appropriate if we were to re-open Jungleland or something,” considering that there are already, according to him, six hotels within walking distance to the project, “that are rarely completely full.”
“This project is too big for this residential neighborhood… You are the city council. Are you planning on destroying our neighborhood? If you approve this project in its current form, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. I implore you to deny this project in its entirety,” he added.
Adam Haverstock: Director, Government Affairs and Tourism, Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. On behalf of the Chamber members, he supports the proposed project. “This project will provide critical workforce housing for young professionals we need in our labor force. This is one of the few opportunity sites left within the city to build such housing,” he said.
Alisandro Nari: His is a comparatively more nuanced view of the project, in that he does want the Timber Tree School House preserved, and he also sees the benefit of having more affordable housing, but he does not see the benefit of the hotel at that location. As such, he would support the project without the hotel, and instead have open space where the hotel is proposed to be.
Following the public speakers, city council members asked staff some additional questions about the Daylight Project. Mayor de la Pena wanted to know what the city’s traffic studies showed. According to staff member Dennis Lammers, the project would not have a significant impact on neighborhood traffic conditions, in large part because not everyone in the hotel or apartments travels at the same time.
Council Member Kevin McNamee asked Mr. Lammers if he had updated and accurate information on how many tenants were living in each of the various sized apartment units being proposed, considering that, according to McNamee, more people live in a given unit today than there used to be. The council member’s concern was related to parking spaces. Mr. Lammers did not have such information.
“If we take two people for a studio, two for a one bedroom, and let’s leave two for a two bedroom, and each of those people have a car. I don’t see sufficient parking at that location. And the parking will pour onto the street and into the neighborhoods surrounding the community. What are your thoughts of that observation that I just shared with you?,” McNamee asked Mr. Lammers.
Mr. Lammers gave a long, rambling response, but did not know the answer.
Kelvin Parker cleared things up somewhat when he added that parking standards are updated every two to three years, and that the next update should take place in 2022.
Council members then made their closing statements before voting on the project. Mayor de la Pena, Mayor Pro Tem Engler, Council Member Adam, and Council Member Jones all spoke highly in support of the Daylight Project, while Council Member McNamee voiced several concerns, in particular neighborhood parking issues. The vote, however, was unanimous to adopt the resolution approving the General Plan Amendment, adopting a zoning change for 1872 Newbury Road from “Commercial” to “Commercial/Residential.” Daylight Thousand Oaks LLC has been given a “green light” by the Thousand Oaks City Council to proceed.
The next Thousand Oaks City Council meeting will be on Tuesday, November 16, 2021, at 6:00 PM. The URL to watch the meetings back and to download a meeting agenda is https://toaks.primegov.com/public/portal.
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks.