Real estate developers in Orange County, California are about to make some dreams come true, after the City Council adopted a plan to build thousands of apartments, lawns, walking trails and other amenities at the Westminster Mall.
The new mall would contain at least 600,000 square feet of retail space, up to 3,000 residential units, and up to 425 hotel rooms – all surrounded by a 17-acre park.
“It was the hip place to be, and it’s really faded out, but it’s just sad to see it go,” said KL DeHart, who grew up in Orange County in the late 1970s, and often wandered the mall with her mother, the LA Times reports.
Hart, a 55-year-old massage therapist who lives near the mall in the house she grew up in is one of the locals who are worried that the new apartments will increase traffic while doing nothing to solve the area’s housing affordability issues.
In Orange County, the San Fernando Valley and suburbs throughout America, the mall was a gathering spot where there were few other places to hang out. It was where kids stocked up on the latest fashions and roamed in packs after school, spawning the term “mall rat.”
The 1980s cult classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” began and ended at the mall where the teens worked. In the 1995 film “Clueless,” a Beverly Hills teen retreated to the mall, which she described as a “sanctuary,” after failing to persuade a teacher to boost her grade.
Now, teenagers text with their friends and make TikTok videos. Their parents are more likely to shop online than at a brick-and-mortar store. -LA Times
Orange County, meanwhile, is desperate for new housing as rents and prices skyrocket in an area where there is little to no underdeveloped land.
According to City Manager Christine Cordon, the Westminster Mall is “probably one of the largest areas of developable space that still exists in our time in this area.”
“This is really our opportunity to create something that we can be absolutely proud of for the next generation to create those same fond memories that I have and that others have in a fashion that is consistent with what the times are now,” said Cordon.
According to Shopoff Realty Investments CEO, Bill Shopoff, upscale malls thrive because “they have entertainment, food, there’s a reason to go there,” adding “I think we need to do that in Westminster to create a sense of something.”
And who might be interested in living at the mall? Shopoff – who purchased the Macy’s store and the former Sears store in the Westminster Mall last year – is counting on ‘a modern type of suburban dweller,’ who would rather walk to restaurants and other things than live in a single-family home suburban house with a yard.
Experts say that new laws, along with increased pressure from the state to build more homes, have convinced some local officials who might have been resistant to rezoning commercial properties in the past.
Roughly every eight years, California cities are assigned a certain number of new housing units they’re required to zone for. As part of the 2020 assessment, Orange County needs to make space for about 183,000 new units, shared among all its cities.
Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two pieces of legislation aimed at spurring housing development in corridors otherwise zoned for large retail and office buildings. -LA Times
“Whether you want to call Orange County urban suburbia or suburban urbanism, it’s definitely shifting,” said Elizabeth Hansburg, People for Housing Orange County co-founder and executive director. “We have an interesting mix of historic districts and tract housing of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and even the ’70s, but I don’t see us building like that again. It’s going to be interesting to see how families evolve in denser spaces.”
Meanwhile, Simon Property Group is reportedly opening additional residential zoning in its Mission Viejo mall, and has proposed redeveloping 15.5 acres of the Brea mall to include apartments, a resort-style fitness center, shops and a large green space.
That said, some of the locals, such as DeHart are furious, and insist they aren’t just NIMBYs.
“That’s not what this is,” she said. “We’re asking legitimate questions, and we’re not getting answers.”
Residents have also voiced concerns about ‘tall residential buildings looming above single-family homes.’
Despite their concerns, city officials such as Laguna Hills Mayor Janine Heft say change is needed.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia for what the mall used to be,” she said. “What we didn’t want was a blight, and that’s really what we had. We had this mall that hadn’t been kept up in years.”
Tue, 02/28/2023 – 21:05