By Karen Billing
The movie theater may be out of the plans for the updated Pacific Highlands Ranch (PHR) Village Center, but new owner Tom Blake of Coast Income Properties is developing many ideas he hopes will create a place that appeals to the community. The center’s new plan is for less retail and more residential units. Potential uses include a boutique grocery store, a gym, community gardens, a bocce ball court, wide sidewalks for outdoor dining and an abundance of gathering spaces.
The PHR Village Center plans were approved by the city in 2010 with 219 residential units and 195,000 square feet of retail, including the cinema on the site on Carmel Valley Road and Village Loop Drive, across from Canyon Crest Academy. Blake would like to scale down the center to 145,000 square feet of retail and add 110 to 115 more residential units.
The design and architecture will remain as was originally proposed and buildings will be a mix of one to six stories. The new plans reflect a five-foot height increase over what was approved.
During a review at the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s regional issues subcommittee meeting on Nov. 15, co-chair Anne Harvey said that what she’s heard most from neighbors is “What happened to our movie theater?” and “I thought we were getting a supermarket.”
Blake said the movie theater no longer makes sense in the marketplace — theaters are too expensive to build, they don’t pay much in rent and they generate a “tremendous amount of parking.”
As for the grocery store, the plan is to take the 43,000-square-foot building that was considered to be a grocery store —but never promised — and split it into two buildings, one of them potentially for a boutique market like a Trader Joe’s.
Harvey worried that the lack of a movie theater would mean the center would lose that “lively” center of activity, “A place to go when people want a place to go.”
“I think we can still achieve that,” said Keith Pittsford of SGPA Architecture and Planning.
He said they hope to load the center with a variety of uses that will make it an attractive place to visit.
Blake said that they have talked to some potential tenants to replace the large cinema space, although nothing has been made official yet. Some sample tenants include an upper-end gym, an REI or Nordstrom Rack.
“I think there’s a demand for retail in this area,” said Blake.
Neighbor Shenping Yuan said he was concerned that building more units and incorporating less retail won’t encourage people to come to the site and also doesn’t provide local residents with the uses they need to be a self-sustaining community, without having to travel east or west to shop.
“We have been hoping this new village will make our life easier and make the area more attractive to future homeowners,” Yuan said. “The original plan approved by the city may not be perfect, however, it seems to have a better proportion of residential versus retail.”
Neighbor David Shamos said he moved into the PHR community a year ago and the Village plan played a role in his decision. Like Yuan, he said he didn’t like that the retail was being trimmed and that the residential square footage is being bumped up.
Jan Fuchs, committee co chair, reminded Blake that one of the key planning elements of the village was the openness, preserving a view corridor to look out to Santa Monica Ridge.
Blake said they have maintained and even expanded on the open spaces and views. He said a central plaza area is planned to be about 40 feet wide and 90 feet long, opening into the open space, which is a green area 100 feet across that goes 500 feet long.
To make the far end of the green open space more appealing, they would like to add amenities like an amphitheatre, community gardens, bocce ball courts and possibly a playground space.
The 3-acre future city library site remains at this end of the property, but the developer does not have control over when that will be built.
Pittsford said ideas abound for the green space, including a meandering trail with passive seating spaces, an area for a coffee cart or even terracing the lawn to provide seating walls. The terraces could be lit at night so people would see ribbons of light marching up to the retail center.
In the original plan, the commercial uses used to extend down to the end of the green.
The loss of the commercial uses in that area was disappointing to neighbor Karen Dubey. She said the new plan feels like a segregated village divided into two uses — one a six-story apartment complex surrounding a park and the other a small shopping center.
“This is not a mixed-use village as intended by the community plan, but a boring corner center where people can get their dry cleaning and take-out food on the way home,” Dubey said. “I have hope that by incorporating community input Coast Income Properties will be able to make substantial improvements to make this a truly special place.”
Dubey said she has found Coast Income very willing to speak to the community and get their ideas. A community meeting for public input will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 4:30 p.m. at the Airoso community great room, 6135 Galante Place. Dubey has created a site for more information on the project at phrvillage.blogspot.com/.