By Karen Billing
Residents expressed concerns about how a proposed new mixed-use development on Carmel Mountain Road and Carmel Country Road will blend with their community at the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting on April 25. Called Merge, the retail and commercial project employs a modern architecture design and is intended by developers Gary Levitt and Tony Frost of Seabreeze Properties to bring something very different to the community than what was originally planned.
“We want to bring in a level of architecture and design that really enhances the area and create something special,” Frost said.
But the different look is not sitting well with some neighbors, many of whom said they bought into the area with the understanding that the lot would be developed as a straight commercial retail project.
Laura Copic, who represents the neighborhood most impacted in Carmel Valley (Neighborhood 10), said she likes the smart design of Merge more than what was originally proposed but has her reservations with the look.
“My concern is that the architecture is quite different from what surrounds it,” Copic said.
Residents in attendance said the “ultra-modern” design would play better downtown and that its sharp edges and flat roofs make it unsightly.
“This thing is like early American airport,” said one resident.
Planning board member Debbie Lokanc disagreed and said in her experience as a Realtor she’s seen more buyers drawn to the “clean lines” and “zen-like” architecture shown in Merge.
The developers are seeking an amendment to the existing permit approved in 2007 for 20,000 square feet of commercial retail in five buildings with surface parking lot.
Instead of the box store buildings, Merge aims to be a “true mixed use” center using the 4-acre lot for 10 townhomes with detached garages and private yards, and 21 residential for sale flats over 35,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.
The plans also include underground parking and a central green space for both residents and office and retail tenants.
The project is required to have 216 parking spaces and Merge will provide 241 in both underground parking and a surface lot. The original plan included 186, all surface parking.
After hearing comments from the board’s regional issues subcommittee in February that the townhomes facing Drycliff looked like “barracks,” the developers softened their look by breaking up the units, adding stone and wood elements and borrowing color from neighboring homes. Each townhouse will have private porches and a 12-foot planting area before the sidewalk.
In addition to opposing the project’s aesthetics, residents said that the project is too dense for the area and will cause traffic issues.
Two of the access points Merge is proposing to use — Drycliff Trail and Corum Court — residents say are more like driveways and are the only ways out of the neighborhood. The increased traffic will make it more difficult to get out onto Carmel Mountain or Carmel Country roads — already there are backups in the mornings, residents said.
Board member Manjeet Ranu said that he appreciated the effort made to frame surrounding streets and provide street-facing elements on Drycliff, Carmel Mountain and Carmel Country but they left out Corum Court.
He said he would like to see Corum Court incorporated more into the plans as well as better activating their green area as parts of it are nowhere near the retail area and won’t draw pedestrians into it.
“It’s not as walkable as you think it is just yet,” Ranu said.
Merge was only an informational item on the agenda on April 25 but will return to the planning board as it continues through the city review process.