Approval granted over objections by some residents
By Joe Tash
The San Diego City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 26, approved plans for a mixed-use village in Pacific Highlands Ranch, overriding the objections of some residents concerned about noise, traffic and other impacts of the project.
The council voted 7-1 to approve the Pacific Highlands Ranch Village project, which is planned for a vacant, 27-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Carmel Valley Road and Del Mar Heights Road.
The project will include 294 residential units, 195,000 square feet of retail space, including a cinema, and 20,000 square feet of office space.
Plans call for a pedestrian-only mall lined by shops and restaurants, a village square, and a four-story parking garage concealed on all sides by commercial and residential buildings.
Pacific Highlands Ranch resident Dean Dubey appealed the San Diego Planning Commission's approval of the project to the City Council, contending that the project as designed by developer Pardee Homes is not consistent with a voter-approved master plan for the community.
"Basically, this shows how developers are allowed to control the whole process from community level to city council," said Duvey following the council's vote.
Liliana Uribe, a Pacific Highlands Ranch resident, said "From my heart and gut, I'm so disappointed. The community's feeling has been completely dismissed at every level." However, that sentiment was contradicted by Manjeet Ranu, who lives within walking distance of the project site and, like Dubey, sits on the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board.
Ranu told the council that at a planning board meeting last summer, when the panel unanimously approved the project, not a single person spoke in opposition.
"There is unambiguous broad support for this project in Pacific Highlands Ranch," Ranu said.
Council members also praised the project.
"It's a great opportunity. I wish I could have a project like that in my district," said Councilman Tony Young, whose district covers southeast San Diego.
Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, whose district includes Pacific Highlands Ranch, made the motion to approve the project and deny Dubey's appeal after adding several conditions, including restrictions on late-night deliveries to businesses in the village center.
The lone no vote came from Councilwoman Donna Frye, who said she could not support the project because the developer had not guaranteed that recycled water would be used to irrigate landscaping in the development.
While Pardee Homes has said it plans to pursue a specialty grocery store for a block along Carmel Valley Road, a company representative told Lightner he could not accept a restriction in the project's permit that only a grocery store could be built on the property. He said such a restriction would tie the company's hands if a grocery tenant could not be brought in to the project.
Another condition requested by residents was a restriction on the hours of operation for the movie theater and restaurants, requiring them to close by 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. City staff recommended against such a restriction, arguing that it could hamper the establishment of a "vibrant active community center." Lightner did not bring up the proposed condition at the council meeting.
"We are just shocked beyond belief that Sherry did not support us on that," said Dubey. "We feel Sherri did not side with the ordinary citizens, the ones who voted to put her into office."
Lightner's staff, responding to an inquiry by this newspaper, noted in an e-mail that she asked the council to postpone the decision from Jan. 5 to Jan. 26 to allow time for additional research by herself and her staff. The e-mail said the developer made a number of changes to the project in response to concerns from community residents, including a reduction in the size of the cinema and realignment of streets to increase pedestrian activity.
"Sherri carefully considered all the community's concerns regarding this project. She recognizes that the community worked with the developer for over six years in creating the plans for this project," said the e-mail from Lightner staff member Erin Demorest.
While supporters of Dubey's appeal were disappointed with the council's vote, the issue could be moot for the foreseeable future. Under provisions of Proposition M, a voter-approved 1998 initiative, full development of Pacific Highlands Ranch is prohibited until missing connectors from Interstate 5 to State Route 56 are completed.
A Pardee spokesman said that under Proposition M, only 50,000 square feet of retail space can be built at the village center site until the connectors are in place. An environmental document on the freeway connector project is expected to be released for public review some time this fall, but actual construction of the project is still years in the future.
In the meantime, some in the community want to see Pacific Highlands Ranch "de-linked" from the connector project, and the Carmel Valley Community Planning Group has set up a subcommittee to explore the issue.