San Fernando Valley's Orange Line busway is a success, and finally, developers are starting to take notice.

Big names in development circles, such as CIM Group Inc., Lowe Enterprises Inc. and Forest City Enterprises Inc., are seeking to develop projects along the route, which has been a surprising hit among commuters.

The $330 million busway, which opened in October 2005 with about 16,000 boardings daily, saw ridership jump to more than 23,000 in May the kind of number that would seem to support mixed-use residential projects.

"I think everyone has been so stunned by the unbelievable success of the Orange Line and they are still trying to figure out how that translates into the development of projects," said Bruce Ackerman, a commissioner for the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the 14-mile transit way, owns several parcels adjacent to bus line stops, some of which are used as parking lots. The agency is pursuing opportunities with developers at five of them.

"There are a couple of stations that are very attractive for a development project," said David Sotero, spokesman for the MTA, who plans to offer ground leases to developers. "We want to work with developers to come up with something that meets both of our needs."

The largest MTA-owned development opportunity is at North Hollywood Station, which connects the busway to MTA's Red Line subway system at Chandler and Lankersham boulevards.

There are 17 acres of developable land that was formerly used as a holding area during the construction of the Orange Line. That site is larger and more significant than other proposed developments given its importance as a link between the Orange and Red lines.

There are 2 million square feet of entitlements for a mixed-use project, which would be co-developed with the Community Redevelopment Agency, according to Roger Moliere, MTA executive officer of real property management and development.

"It is envisioned as mixed-use with a significant amount of office, retail and commercial," he said.

Multiple developers

The MTA is in the midst of choosing a developer for the parcel. Three developers, CIM Group, Lowe Enterprises and Forest City Enterprises have been selected as finalists, and the MTA board will pick one later this year.

Forest City declined to comment and Lowe was not available for comment. But CIM Principal John Given said he expects a development there will have a profound impact on the area.

"The significance of what can and will be accomplished there will be transformational, not only for the neighborhood but moreover for the San Fernando Valley," he said.

There are several stops west of North Hollywood where other development opportunities on MTA land abound. Those include two sites adjacent to the Balboa Station in Encino. The station, which is located at Balboa Boulevard and Victory Boulevard, is at the midpoint of the bus line.

The Moss Group, a real estate investment and development company, is working on building an office project at a 1.7-acre property adjacent to the Balboa Station, according to Moliere.

The lot, which is lacking entitlements, was formerly used for staging during the construction of the bus line and is across the street from a park-and-ride lot. "It is probably a year or more away from breaking ground," Moliere said.

Moss Group acknowledged owning an adjacent office building, but company head Richard Moss otherwise declined comment. "We aren't in a position to disclose or make public any of our plans," he said.

Meanwhile at Sepulveda Boulevard and Erwin Street, the MTA owns a 12-acre park-and-ride lot. Moliere said the MTA board will review design guidelines for the property at a meeting later this month. Once those guidelines are approved, the MTA will begin soliciting proposals from interested developers.

Finally, the MTA is in the preliminary stages of examining development opportunities at a 3.8-acre park-and-ride lot it owns at the Canoga Station in Canoga Park.

If developers have been a slow to embrace development along the busway route, communities are beginning to call for it.

There are proposals for residential development on private land near the westerly terminus of the Orange Line at the Warner Center Station, and in places like Tarzana, neighborhood councils are getting involved.

In June, the Tarzana Neighborhood Council proposed a transit village complete with residential and commercial components at Reseda Boulevard and Oxnard Street.

"The Tarzana project would be a perfect example of what we want to see," said Ackerman. "I'd love to see everything done tomorrow, but obviously in L.A. it goes slower than that."

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