The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board on July 22 voted 11-3 to support plans to renovate Flower Hill Promenade that include replacing the UltraStar Cinemas with a Whole Foods, as well as adding new retail and boutique office space and a four-level parking garage.
The older area of the mall will receive a face lift with a "California coastal" look and will connect with the new area via a courtyard. The project will now move to the San Diego City Planning Commission and then the San Diego City Council in October. If approved, construction will begin in early 2011. Developer Protea Properties hopes to open the Whole Foods by mid-2012.
"The decision of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board carries a lot of weight, as its members are also members of the community in which this project will be completed," said Jeffrey Essakow, president of Protea Properties, the company that owns Flower Hill Promenade. "With their approval, we can continue the process of moving forward and giving this shopping center the much-needed improvements for which this community has been waiting."
An overflow crowd attended the meeting at the Carmel Valley Library, where more than two hours of presentations and comments were heard before the board took its vote around 11:45 p.m.
Chair Frisco White received more than 100 e-mails both in favor and against the project. Many Flower Hill tenants who attended the meeting voiced their support for the renovation, which they said they hope will help bring in more customers.
"This is the shot in the arm this center needs," said Brian Miller, owner of Geppetto's. "The center was built 33 year ago and it's time for a change."
Longtime opponent of the project, neighbor Robert Vicino, expressed his distaste, calling it the Mission Valley-ization of the San Dieguito River Valley. He said the renovation does not match the community character with its bulk and scale, doesn't have enough parking and that there is no guarantee that Whole Foods will come once they tear down the theater.
"Whole Foods is the green, sweetheart tenant today, but tomorrow we may be stuck with somebody else," Vicino said.
The planning board approved the project on several conditions, including delivery hours for Whole Foods trucks; that mature landscaping and architecture be considered in the view corridor from the freeway; that they remain accountable to the sensitivity of the river valley; and that there be no realignment of Flower Hill Drive.
The city has requested that Flower Hill Drive, the street off San Andres that runs directly above and behind the center, be reduced in width from 40 feet to 30 feet, and realigned from in front of the Taste of Thai restaurant to behind it.
The planning board does not support this change and neither do Protea Properties or the residents of Spindrift condos, whose only access to their homes is off Flower Hill Drive.
"We support this project 100 percent," said Horace Dietrich, president of the homeowners' association for the nearby Spindrift community. "We initially had some concerns about how this project would impact traffic near and around our homes, but the Protea team worked with us for several months to resolve the issue. They satisfied our concerns so thoroughly that our HOA board has voted unanimously to support the revitalization of Flower Hill."
An HOA representative said moving the road makes the entrance to their homes look like a "McDonald's drive through on steroids," as well as being unsafe due to reduced line of sight from traffic coming down the hill on San Andres.
The plans to update Flower Hill have changed since the renovation was first announced in 2004. It has been reduced in scale twice and now proposes adding 61,000 square feet to bring the shopping center to a total of 173,000 square feet. By comparison, Westfield UTC is 1 million square feet; Del Mar Highlands Town Center is 273,000 square feet.