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Thousand Oaks approves Caruso apartment complex at The Lakes

By   /   Wednesday, December 1st, 2021  /   Comments Off on Thousand Oaks approves Caruso apartment complex at The Lakes

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An artist’s rendering of The Lakes shopping center with the six-story apartment building behind it that developer Rick Caruso plans to build. (courtesy image)

A shopping center property owned by the city of Thousand Oaks will be sold to Los Angeles development mogul Rick Caruso, who plans to add a six-story apartment building to the site.

The much-anticipated transaction required approval from the Thousand Oaks City Council, which voted 3-2 in favor of the deal on Nov. 30.

The Lakes is a Caruso-run shopping center on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, adjacent to the Civic Arts Plaza and City Hall. Caruso, the billionaire founder and CEO of the real estate development company Caruso, attended the Nov. 30 City Council meeting virtually and told the council he is “absolutely thrilled with this project.”

Caruso has leased the property from the city since The Lakes opened in 2005 and will now purchase it for at least $2 million, a price based on the terms of the existing lease. Additionally, he will pay Thousand Oaks up to $13.1 million in “community benefit payments” over 37 years. The annual payments depend on the number of residential units constructed, according to the development agreement.

The sale price is either $2 million or fair market value, whichever is higher, according to Thousand Oaks Chief Assistant City Attorney Patrick Hehir. The fair market value is limited to the value of the property as vacant unimproved land and limited to the uses permitted in the lease, Hehir said.

The company Caruso has holdings in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and across the Los Angeles area. It has three shopping centers in eastern Ventura County — The Lakes, The Promenade at Westlake Village and Village At Moorpark — and owns the luxurious Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort in Montecito.

On a 3-2 vote, the council approved Caruso’s proposal of a six-story apartment building with up to 165 residential units slated for now-empty 7.5-acre commercial parcel behind the shopping center.

Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña and Councilman Ed Jones voted against the project, voicing concerns that it doesn’t guarantee affordable housing units.

“This is a major development agreement that needed more scrutiny,” Bill-de la Peña said. “It’s unfortunate tonight is take it or leave it.”

The council’s decision came after about two hours of heated public comment, with nearly 60 residents signed up to speak at the meeting.

One speaker said the proposed apartment project “looks like it’s designed for glitzy Las Vegas, not downtown semi-rural Thousand Oaks.”

The Lakes shopping center opened in 2005 with a grocery store, restaurants and retail stores, boosting hopes of creating a thriving downtown along Thousand Oaks Boulevard near the Civic Arts Plaza venue.

Caruso leased the property under an agreement that called for him to pay rent to the city only if his margins met a certain threshold, and that threshold was never met, as the property never lived up the expectations of the city or its developer. Caruso now believes the retail center will be more successful with hundreds of people living nearby.

“We’ve never had the critical mass to have a vibrant retail project, or at least the vibrancy that we would expect and had hope for out there,” Caruso said of The Lakes. “Nonetheless, we’ve been committed to that property. … Not everything happened the way we had hoped it would, but I truly believe adding this residential component to the retail will create a synergy and energy that’s going to start this growth of having a vibrant downtown.”

Chris Robertson, vice president of planning, government and community relations at Caruso, said the mixed-use development will have “significant project benefits,” attract new retailers and restaurants, and will pay around $5 million in development impact fees.

The proposed apartment complex includes a private recreation area for tenants that features a swimming pool, spa, deck, gazebos and a fitness center. Robertson said the company plans to start construction sometime in 2022.

The residential development at The Lakes is an exciting opportunity for Thousand Oaks, Kelvin Parker, the city’s community development director, told the Business Times on Nov. 30.

“Overall, it will be a net positive,” Parker said.

He considers the existing property to be “successful, in the sense that it’s beautiful,” with a public park, lawns and water features.

The revamp of the The Lakes, which will include renovations to the retail buildings as well as the new apartment complex, is “an opportunity to reboot and reset this center,” Parker said.

“With COVID and other things of that nature, people’s shopping patterns are changing, and adding residential on this particular site builds in a customer base, and helps reshape the center as a destination,” he said.

The Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce is a strong supporter of the residential project at The Lakes, said Danielle Borja, the chamber’s president and CEO. The project will help meet the housing needs of local employers, place more residents within walking distance of local businesses and activate a portion of Thousand Oaks Boulevard near the Civic Arts Plaza, she told the Business Times in an email interview.

“The addition of residential units will bring new, and needed energy, to The Lakes, benefitting local residents as well as current and future tenants,” Borja said.

The Lakes shopping center on Thousand Oaks Boulevard (file photo)

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