By Karen Billing
A new mixed-use center is being planned for the Carmel Country Highlands area. Called Merge, the center looks to combine 10 townhomes, 25,000 square feet of office and 21 upper floor flats over 10,000 square feet of retail on a 4-acre lot at the corner of Carmel Country and Carmel Mountain roads.
“When we sat down to design this property we realized we have a very unique opportunity. This is a community that really needs a hub,” said developer Gary Levitt, who reviewed his plans with the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s regional issues subcommittee on Feb. 6.
Levitt has named the project Merge to reflect how he hopes it will bring all types of uses together. Levitt envisions friends meeting for coffee, and neighbors riding bikes with their kids to breakfast or walking to dinner.
Levitt said he feels his residential products will again create the “merge,” as the spaces could appeal to bachelors, young couples, small families or empty nesters looking to downsize but remain in the Carmel Valley community.
He hopes retail uses and the tenants of his unique office spaces will utilize a planned central green area.
“We’re very proud of this,” Levitt said. “I love the opportunity to work with all the uses over here and I think we can be a real asset to the community.”
With his residential units, he wanted to avoid people looking into each other’s homes, so he gave every unit indoor/outdoor connectivity. The townhomes, which will face Drycliff Trail, will feature detached garages with a private yard between the home and the garage.
Levitt also wants to be unique with his office spaces, noting that there have been changes in the office environment—there’s less of a focus on everyone having their own office, people are doing more collaborative work.
To that end, Levitt wants to create flexible use space, where people could be working in a group on laptops around a table. The spaces will be concrete ceiling and floors with glass all around and the tenants will be able to create the space they need.
“It’s something different and unique that you won’t find in Del Mar or Carmel Valley,” said Scott Maas, associate principal at Safdie Rabines Architects, the project architect.
Safdie Rabines’ work can be seen locally at the Carmel Valley Northwestern Division station, Scripps Seaside Forum in La Jolla and the Eleanor Roosevelt College at UC San Diego.
Maas said the plan with the green space is to use beautiful native landscaping, trees and moveable furniture so that the people at Merge can define how they want to use the space. The offices and homes will look out onto the green space and the retail spaces will face Carmel Mountain Road as well as the courtyard.
“That engages the space,” Maas said. “It creates a buzz and generates activity.”
The committee, as well as neighbors in attendance, voiced concerns about the project’s architecture. The look, from preliminary renderings, is modern with flat roofs and big tall windows.
Committee Chair Frisco White called it “urban” and board member Nancy Novak said the townhomes looked like “barracks.”
“I love that you’re fronting Carmel Mountain and Carmel Country Roads and I love the layout but I think that the architecture is a stark contrast to what’s already there,” said Laura Copic, the neighborhood 10 representative on the board. “I have a hard time seeing how these townhomes and the townhomes across the street from that are going to blend together.”
One resident agreed with Novak that the townhomes resembled barracks and the architecture was too industrial.
“We live in that community because we like how it looks, we’re not asking anyone to change the look of our community,” she said.
“We just need to know why you’re going in this direction versus getting some of the character of the community so it doesn’t stand out as a pimple on the corner,” White said.
White added that it would be a nice looking pimple but it is definitely very different from what is around it—lots of peak roofs and height variations.
Levitt said the renderings don’t do the project justice as the quality materials of brick, stone and warm wood “won’t come across as contemporary.”
He said he’s kept the roofs flat so that they can generate more solar uses and the large windows promote the use of natural light.
He said they have had a lot of internal debate about the design.
“We realize that we’re doing something for the existing community but it fits in and I think will add character to the community,” Levitt said.
White said he is not advocating that it all has to be tile roofs and stucco but asked that he take a look at the forms of the neighborhood around the project and try to pick some of that up in the design.
Others, like John Finley, liked the idea of something different.
“In Carmel Valley it’s just a sea of the same,” Finley said. “This is something that can be so new and refreshing.”
Copic also asked why there was twice as much office as retail planned for the project. Subcommittee co-chair Jan Fuchs said that the family-orientation of the area is as high there if not higher than anywhere in Carmel Valley and they are looking forward to having places to go.
Levitt said he’s concerned about attracting enough retail that will be able to be viable. He’s envisioning two to three small bakery/restaurants, a coffee shop, maybe a small jeweler.
Residents in attendance had additional concerns about having retail and outdoor cafes so close to a very busy street with “pretty heavy traffic.”
Levitt said besides the morning peak hours of 8-9 a.m. and afternoons between 4:30 and 5 p.m., there is not a lot of traffic on the street and the streets in the area are wide and overbuilt.
Levitt plans to do a formal project submittal to the city at the end of the month. After the city’s review comments he plans to come back to the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board with any changes in the next 90 days. He also plans to meet with a neighborhood homeowners association in March.
The project will require a site development permit and one deviation as one building on Carmel Country is 3 feet over the 30-foot height limit. Levitt hopes to get the project through the planning system in the next six months.