Two major developments proposed along the coastline will come before the city council and planning commission in the next two weeks and could transform the face of Ventura. The proposals include knocking down the old, deteriorating parking deck at California Street and Harbor Boulevard and developing the area between the pier and the California Street Plaza, and the empty lot at Seaward Avenue and Harbor Boulevard with two separate mixed-use projects.

The Harbor and Seaward project has been on the table for nearly 10 years, but the most recent proposal, known as Edgewater, at the site of the city-owned parking structure, has been gaining momentum. Although still safe, the parking structure is in need of some expensive repairs due to spawling — concrete breaking off rusty rebar. Instead of spending more on the structure, the City of Ventura is looking for something that will be a better fit for the coastline.

Nothing is better than having a bite to eat, or strolling into a shop or two, or relaxing in a hotel room at the beach. Local infill developer David Armstrong would have to agree. The owners of the Crowne Plaza teamed up with Armstrong, and he created a conceptual plan to redevelop the area that would cater to residents and visitors and bring distinctive commercial elements and possibly housing to the area.

“We want to have our own unique thing, eat and shop and stay,” Armstrong said. “There will be a number of components.”

To name a few, Armstrong’s vision includes a year-round farmer’s market that will showcase Ventura County’s locally grown produce and locally made products, a sporting goods store where beachgoers could rent anything from kayaks to surfboards, a small convention center, an activity pavilion, shops, restaurants and a boutique hotel. Plans for the land behind the oceanfront property are still being discussed but office and residential space are possibilities. Armstrong would also incorporate the restaurant Aloha and the Artists’ Union within the future project.

According to Rick Cole, Ventura’s city manager, Armstrong’s Edgewater proposal could be a good fit.

“What we want at our beachfront, what the owner of the Crowne Plaza wants, is a modest but synergistic way to not compete with the downtown but to complete the downtown,” Cole said. “The vision [Armstrong and the owner of the Crowne Plaza] are talking about is not overly grandiose and not overly competitive. It is that sensitivity that makes it an attractive element.”

Mayor Christy Weir, albeit not having seen the Edgewater plans, has confidence in Armstrong, who has created quality projects in the past, including the Harbor and Seaward project.

“Dave has a really high standard of quality,” she said. “He cares about every level of quality, from the building to architecture to technicality [of how it will be carried out] to how citizens of Ventura will respond and use it. He just has a kind of level of character that is very responsive to what the community wants and needs.”

Despite the good feedback, Armstrong’s proposal is, in fact, just a proposal. On Jan. 26, his plans for the 3.4-acre parcel between the pier and the California Street Plaza will go before the city council. The council will have to decide upon one of three options: to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Armstrong and the Crowne Plaza allowing them to move forward; to send out a request for proposals open to any developer; or to repair the parking structure, which has been estimated to cost in the millions of dollars.

Weir said that the parking structure isn’t the best use for Ventura’s beach front property; therefore, proposals that would make better use of that land will be welcomed. One thing for certain, Weir, as well as the Coastal Commission reinforce that Ventura’s beach destinations must be accessible to the public. The best way to do that: adequate parking.

In Armstrong’s proposal, the site, which is located on a slope and above the water table, will feature 530 underground parking stalls, more than the current structure offers. Armstrong would also include a new parking structure for the Crowne Plaza.

“That would be the most expensive part,” he said.

The project is estimated to be valued at $100 million and would include a land lease agreement with the city for the property. Although Weir said that there is no money for such a development during this economic climate, moving forward with such proposals during a downturn is smart planning.

Armstrong said that the public shouldn’t expect to see any major changes at the site for at least another five years.

The Edgewater proposal will be heard at the regular city council meeting, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. Public comments will be heard.

Harbor and Seaward
The plans for the mixed-use development at Harbor Boulevard and Seaward Avenue will go before the planning commission and the design review commission Jan. 20 for the Housing Approval Program (HAP) review, which would require the development to have the appropriate number of affordable homes and comply with city planning goals.

After years of working with the city staff, the Coastal Commission and community councils, Armstrong, who is also the project manager for Anastasi Development Company is finally ready to move from conceptual plans to final plans.

“We are proud of the project we came up with, and we have a developer who is committed to high-quality project and helping Ventura realize its potential without destroying the character,” Armstrong said.

The commissions will then make a recommendation to the city council regarding the HAP review and the plans, which include preliminary site plans and elevations. Armstrong is hoping the city council will then approve the HAP application within the next 60 days. Once the city council approves the plans, Armstrong can move onto the development application and review. The development review would include all the detailed plans, from landscape to architectural design. The development review could take up to or longer than a year to complete.

The project will include 138 attached homes, 15,000 square feet of commercial space for shops and restaurants, and 5,000 square feet for a large restaurant.

Armstrong said he doesn’t expect construction to begin until at least 2010.   

The Harbor and Seaward project will be discussed at the regular city council meeting on Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. Public comments will be heard.