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EIR cites traffic

Westfield plans greatly expand UTC mall and add new residential

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There may be too much traffic from expanded University Towne Centre plan, but the developer doesn't seem worried.

Australian shopping center developer and owner Westfield Group plans an expansion of UTC to increase the size of the mall by three-fourths and add residential units.

But a draft environmental impact report says the plan might generate too much traffic.

The 1.06 million-square-foot mall would be augmented by 750,000 square feet of retail and 250 multifamily residential units.

Westfield, which acts as its own architect and general contractor, and finances its own projects, plans to redevelop and expand on property it either owns, or is owned by Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN) and Macy's (NYSE: M) which own their own pads at UTC.

Jonathan Bradhurst, Westfield senior vice president, said a third new department store will go into the new center but that the lease has yet to be signed.

"A seven-acre park will be part of the plan as well," Bradhurst said.

The project proposes a total of 7,163 parking spaces in several parking structures, versus about 4,500 spaces today.

Additional project features would include a relocated and expanded bus transit center, reservation of right-of-way for the proposed transit center and a proposed extension of a light rail transit line.

The rail line may not happen, because express buses may be a more financially viable option.

Under the community plan, traffic at an expanded UTC is not supposed to exceed 17,800 cumulative average daily trips.

While the exact number of ADTs generated by the current center and the exact projections weren't immediately available, that may or may not be easy to do given the popularity of the center.

Bradhurst, who concedes that traffic in and around the center is an ongoing problem, said Westfield has already agreed to build improvements to onramps and offramps along La Jolla Village Drive at both the Interstate 5 and the I-805 interchanges.

The draft EIR said new design is bulky and would not only create traffic problems all along La Jolla Village Drive from Interstate 5 to I-805, but along segments of the Genesee Avenue Corridor from Nobel Drive to Decoro Street and from Governor Drive to State Route 52.

Impacts to La Jolla Village Drive could be mitigated by adding some number of additional lanes, but even if Westfield is willing to pay for these improvements, widening the roads could still be problem as it pertains to community character.

The developer has already committed to more than $39 million to improve 17 area traffic intersections, an express shuttle and expanded bus service that will double route capacity.

Westfield, meanwhile, has told the city that it wouldn't implement all the recommended improvements in the EIR because in the case of La Jolla Village Drive at least, widening the roadway to up to 10 lanes, along with multiple additional turn lanes, would be inconsistent with community design policies and urban character.

Not all the improvements would be along La Jolla Village Drive.

Upgrades have been proposed along the Genesee Avenue Corridor along the affected segments including widening the street from four to six lanes.

Doing this could reduce the traffic impacts to below a level of significance, but not everyone is on board with the plan.

As a result of community concerns due to Genesee's ability to accommodate more traffic, the San Diego City Council is considering not widening Genesee at all.

Portions of I-805 between Governor Drive and State Route 52 would be impacted by the expansion, as would five freeway ramps meters along I-5 and I-805 at La Jolla Village and Nobel drives.

Westfield's proposal features seven areas built around open-air courtyards, green spaces and water elements with enhanced parking and public transit.

New housing on site will be within walking distance of the mall.

Plans call for developing new Nordstrom and Macy stores. The existing facilities would be demolished as part of a 566,000-square-foot demolition that includes more than half of the center's existing shop space.

Much of the new development will go where asphalt parking lots exist today.

If all goes as Westfield would hope, entitlements could come by the beginning of next year with construction just getting under way by mid-2008. Completion of the first phase construction could begin some time next year, with completion in 2011.

No construction schedule has been established for the second phase, when a guest build would construct the residential portion.

Westfield is also seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its project.

Among the 'green' planning elements envisioned for the New UTC are:

  • Solar arrays on rooftops helping to power the shopping center;
  • Increased use of recycled water, instead of potable water, for irrigation;
  • Energy-efficient lighting programs in partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric; sustainable, recycled and locally sourced building materials;
  • Enhanced bicycle and pedestrian access to the center, and;
  • The modern transit center. While LEED certification is the project's major goal, Westfield will have to get itself through the environmental processing if the plan is to go forward.

    Westfield UTC is a joint venture between Westfield and a commingled fund advised by JPMorgan Asset Management.

    The Westfield Group (ASX: WDC) is an Australian-based company with interests in 121 shopping centers in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

    In the U.S., the group has a portfolio of 59 shopping centers with more than 9,000 specialty stores and totaling approximately 65 million square feet of leasable space in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.

    JPMorgan Asset Management is a global asset management leader providing world-class investment solutions to institutions, individuals and financial intermediaries. That firm is responsible for over $1 trillion in assets under management.

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