New plans for the redevelopment of the closed Laguna Hills Mall call for a couple of hundred more apartments and a reduction in retail space.

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At a November City Council meeting, project developer, California-based Merlone-Geier Partners, unveiled changes to a project that the panel first approved in 2016.

Plans now call for the inclusion of a new 110,000 square-feet cinema, 225,000 to 300,000 square feet of retail, a 125 room hotel, 390,000 to 520,000 square feet of office space, two three-story parking structures, and a potential of 1,200 to 1,500 more apartments, according to the proposed development plans.

Additionally, architectural changes, and updated plans for a park are a part of the recently updated plan. Architectural changes include the use of stones, metals, and wood to create agrarian style buildings with a contemporary feel as well as pocket parks, courtyards, and open space, according to Merlone-Geiers representative, Stephen Logan. The 2.5 to 3 acre park will include a dry/wet creek bed running through, a dog park, amphitheater for musical performances, and space left over for farmer’s markets or similar events.

In 2016, Laguna Hills approved plans for the revamp of the closed mall, with a project then dubbed Five Lagunas. However, since then, minimal action had occurred. Now, among the changes to the previous plans, Merlone-Geier Partners is also proposing a new name for the development: The Village at Laguna Hills.

Like Five Lagunas, The Village at Laguna Hills name is still open to suggestions. The new plans have neither been accepted nor rejected as councilmembers want to see more progress in recruiting retailers and businesses before moving ahead.

“The most important thing here is open communication. People really want to make sure that what ultimately comes about after about six and a half years and moving forward to the future is something that the residents really want,” Councilmember Erica Pezold said.

The two major changes to the plan include the addition of residential housing and reduction of retail space. Previously, the proposal called for 880,000 square feet of retail space and 988 residential units. Another reduction was made in office space to make room for the seasonal events that have taken place each year in Laguna Hills, including the Pumpkin City pumpkin patch, according to Logan.

While residents expressed satisfaction over the preservation of their seasonal events, they were concerns about the plans calling for increased housing.

Resident Karen Litfin argued that high density housing will create more traffic congestion and gridlock, decrease parking availability, and have a negative impact on the quality of life in the city.

“The residents of Laguna Hills deserve a family friendly center where they can go to shop, eat, and entertain without being encumbered by the negative effects of high density housing,” she told the council.

Merlone-Geier representatives said the company is focusing on staying within its traffic budget to minimize as much congestion possible. It is also working on an environmental review which will address traffic concerns, Logan said.

Councilmember Dave Wheeler inquired about how The Village at Laguna Hills will bring in revenue for the city’s needs such as roads, traffic lights, and police with the reduction of retail space from 880,000 square feet to as little as 225,000 square feet. According to Wheeler, the Laguna Hills Mall brought in $1.5 million annually for the city in tax revenue and with the mall’s replacement, that projected amount was $500,000 a year. That figure is expected to go down further with the plan’s reduction of retail space, said Wheeler.

Logan said the hotel tax revenue, also known as the transient occupancy tax, will bring back 500,000 to 600,000 square feet of revenue lost from the reduction in retail space.

The developer has not begun marketing for retail tenants, but expects to in about four to five months and will continue to keep the city informed, Logan said.

Should the new plan eventually be given the go ahead, Merlone-Geier Partners is expecting the construction and finalization of The Village at Laguna Hills to be a 10-year process, finishing in 2031 as a best case scenario.

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