By Karen Billing
The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board is “frustrated and tired of waiting” for the city to get moving on a proposed greenbelt project that for several years has already been designed and paid for. The simple greenbelt project improves a 200-foot SDG&E easement under a power pole and lines at the crest of East Ocean Air Drive — it has been designed for three years and $425,000 in funds were contributed to the city six years ago.
The board members voted at its meeting on July 16 to send letters to the mayor and District 1 City Council President Pro-tem Sherri Lightner to request they take back control of the project and pursue it as a private matter, hiring their own engineers and processing it through the city like any developer would.
“I’d really like to get this accomplished for the people of Torrey Hills, especially the people who live next to a dust bowl of scorched earth,” said Brad Fagan, a member of the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board.
The Torrey Hills Master Association hired a consultant four months ago and Fagan said they believe they can expedite the project by months if not years.
The proposed greenbelt faces a row of houses and is edged by the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.
Torrey Hills was very limited about what could go into the property, as space has to be reserved for SDG&E and part of the land is considered environmentally sensitive and protected by the city’s Multi-Habitat Planning Area (MHPA).
The open space will be refreshed with native plants, stacked native boulders and a decomposed granite trail will wind through the property and link users to canyon trails across the street.
In one area that is out of the MHPA, a trellis area is planned where people can sit and look out over the canyon.
Maintenance of the property will be handled by the Torrey Hills Maintenance Assessment District (MAD), which residents pay into to be able to receive special benefits above what the city provides.
As the Torrey Hills Master Association owns the land, it would likely have to enter into a park development agreement, reimbursement agreement or some form of contract with the city to allow it to regain the lead and to access private donations the city holds for the project. According to its letters, the association is prepared to enter such a contract with the city.
“We all feel this path is much better for everyone and we hope to shake off a year, maybe two,” Fagan said. “We wish (council president) Lightner was as passionate about this project as we are…I really think with her support we can make this thing work.”
Mo Kantner, a representative for Lightner, said she understood the board’s frustration but was unsure whether taking the project back to the city would in fact expedite the process.
She said, according to city staff, it could take less than 24 months to get the project done if it continues moving on its current path. If the planning board takes over it could take about 18 months.
The “if” in the city’s timeline is no longer acceptable to the board, Fagan said.
“If we take it back we’ll have the momentum and we’ll have the people to push this through,” Fagan said. “We want to take it back as a private project and be in control. It’s just to get it done. No offense to anybody but we just want to get it done.”