From the ground up

Recent developments promise change to Ventura’s landscape

By Michael Sullivan 05/03/2012

Ventura has garnered a reputation for being a slow-growth town, but what a lot of residents don’t see are the numerous working parts. While city planners, members of the Design Review Committee and the City Council may hold up projects due to various concerns they have with style, purpose and so forth, many developers also have to work and rework plans to satisfy the California Coastal Commission, which ensures and maintains public access to beaches up and down the state. Then there is the job of pulling construction permits and organizing labor contracts. Having said that, though, Ventura is growing and major developments have overcome key hurdles to getting projects on line and ready for the construction phase.

In the last couple of years, several hotel, residential and mixed-use projects have made major headway, and now vacant lots around the city approach achieving their great potential — some sooner than others, but nevertheless, on the way. The development roundup for the city of Ventura includes:

John Ashkar’s Downtown project
Apartment/live-work spaces — expected to break ground in early 2013

There had been little talk about development of the former Ventura Unified School District property, bordered by Santa Clara and Junipero streets and Thompson Boulevard, since Seal Beach-based Olson Company received approvals for 172 condominiums in 2005. At the time, the economy was bustling, home prices were skyrocketing and it seemed like everyone was buying real estate. Within the next couple of years, it became evident that the housing market was on the verge of a crash and the vision for the site was slowly fading. In recent months, however, John Ashkar of Los Angeles-based Westwood Communities Corp. purchased the 3.5-acre property in December 2011 and has since revamped the vision from condos to 257 apartment rentals. The city has put the project on a fast track for approval.

The project came before the City Council in January and went before the Design Review Committee last month. The committee said the project plans needed more specific details about elevations and what the courtyards look like, among a few other things. Ashkar said that he expects to complete the plans for approval by the Design Review Committee within the next couple of months.
“I am hopeful, by this time next year, it will be under construction with a year and half-year build out,” Ashkar said.

Plan details:
3.5 acres
257 apartments; 115 two-bedroom rentals, 142 one-bedroom rentals
Three to five stories



Anastasi Seaward Avenue/Harbor Boulevard project
Mixed-use residential and commercial — construction drawing stage

It’s been 11 years since Anastasi Development Company of Redondo Beach took over the Seaward Avenue/Harbor Boulevard project. After many years of anticipation by not only Pierpont residents, but also city officials and visitors to the Seaward Avenue beach, the small beach community is on the brink of some major changes, within the next year it is hoped.

The vision for the project had changed over the years, but the final plan (which includes retail, residential, a restaurant and subterranean parking) received approval by the Coastal Commission, the Design Review Committee and the City Council. Barbara Asbell, project coordinator for Anastasi, said that, if everything stays on track, construction could begin within the next year.

Plan details:
5.62 acres
138 for sale, condos/townhouses
15,000 square feet of commercial (based on a report in 2008)
Restaurant on corner of Harbor Boulevard and Seaward Avenue
Viewing tower
Subterranean parking
Cafe on corner of Seaward Avenue and Pierpont Boulevard



Sondermann/Ring Harbor project
Mixed-use residential, commercial, boating center and slips, public park — redesign phase

When Mike Sondermann and his business partner Douglas Ring responded to a request for proposals to develop a 21-acre site owned by the Ventura Port District in 2000, they had no idea the number of hoops they would have to jump through in order to move forward with their mixed-use project. The project, located off Navigator Street behind the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, would feature apartments, commercial space, a boating center with slips and a public park. As simple as that sounds, in the scheme of things, gaining approval from the City Council, the Design Review Committee and the Coastal Commission was to tie up the project for more than a decade.

“We really thought, for the original schedule, we would be under construction in 2005 or 2006,” Sondermann said.

In 2007 the City Council approved the project. The Coastal Commission, however, would hold it up for five years as the project had to meet the commission’s criteria for maintaining public access. The commission’s apparent main concern was the first floor of the project, which would include both stores and residential — the commissioners wanted only commercial space. The developers negotiated with the commission, saying the project wouldn’t be viable if the first floor was only commercial space. Eventually, the commission and the developers came to an agreement only to be hit with another hurdle. Last month, the commission finally approved the project, on the condition that the promenade perimeter would be no less than 50 feet. The promenade’s design was nearly 60 feet in some parts, but only 28 feet in other areas. Unfortunately, this new condition has called for yet another redesign and Sondermann will continue toward the path of completion without Ring, who died in 2009.

Millions of dollars have been spent on the project thus far and Sondermann said that he hopes to have the project ready for approval by the city sometime this year, but wouldn’t give any tentative date for breaking ground.

Plan details:
300 residential units
21,000 square feet of commercial
Large promenade
Boat slips
Two-acre public park


Embassy Suites Figueroa Street/Harbor Boulevard project
Mixed-use hotel, retail and spa — construction phase pending

It has been said that when the real estate market collapsed, first to go was residential, then commercial, followed by hotel/hospitality. When the market started to gain momentum, residential was first to show signs of recovery and then, slowly, commercial. The hotel/hospitality industry, however, is apparently still being affected. Enter Embassy Suites.

Though the regal-looking hotel received all necessary approvals last year, Community Development Director Jeffery Lambert hasn’t heard much from the developer since that time. At this point, it’s just a waiting game.

Plan details:
171 hotel rooms plus 31 suites
8,000 square feet of commercial
2,500-square-foot full-service spa


Residence Inn by Golden China, South Seaward Avenue/Alessandro Drive project
Hotel — under redesign

The fewer the details, the faster the approvals. And so it goes for the hotel project off Seaward Avenue behind Golden China. Though some locals miss El Torito, which was torn down some years back, a new hotel in its place could be a great spot for families visiting residents. The City Council and Design Review Committee had approved a Hyatt Hotel for the site, but the hotel was changed to a Residence Inn. Lambert said that not too many changes were needed to accommodate the Residence Inn design, so he foresees an easy approval process through the Design Review Committee. He expects the developer to break ground in early 2013.

Plan details:
128 rooms


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