Office complex in Pacific Highlands Ranch approved

While still “bewildered” about how the city process worked to allow doubling the square footage allowed in the Pacific Highlands Ranch community plan, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board approved Aperture Del Mar on Nov. 16. The five-building, 630,000-square-foot office complex off Carmel Valley Road near SR-56 intends to be the home of a corporate headquarters or campus for a big tech-focused or life-science company. 

The board’s approval was not unanimous, with board members Ken Farinsky and Jonathan Tedesco voting against it.

The board was to approve a substantial conformance review, which determines if the project is consistent with the previously approved permit, approved back in 2003. The board was “frustrated” as to how it could’ve been approved since the community plan calls for an employment center of just 300,000 square feet.

City planner Daniel Monroe said the increased square footage is allowed in the design guidelines that address bulk and scale, as well as by the PHR Master Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The amount of trips that would be generated by that 300,000 square feet of office space was 6,300 average daily trips (ADT). In the city’s approval of the project in 2003, Monroe said the project was found to be consistent with the community plan as it did not exceed the 6,300 ADT maximum.

“The square footage differs but the traffic impact is the same,” Monroe said, noting that the corporate headquarter use has significantly less daily trips than a multi-tenant office building.

Farinsky compared the project to One Paseo where the community plan stated a certain amount of square footage and use and, in that case, the community plan overruled the project’s EIR and a plan amendment was required.

“Why are you suddenly saying that the EIR overrules the community plan? It doesn’t make sense,” Farinsky said. “You don’t plan by ADTs, you plan by square feet. So why are you dumping the community plan when it should be the controlling document?”

Monroe said he wouldn’t say the city is “dumping” the community plan — the project was found to be in conformance with the ADTs. Board member Barry Schultz argued that even though a project is consistent with ADTs, that’s only one impact a project can have on a community.

As Carmel Valley Planning Board Chair Frisco White said, the board is in a difficult position as “the train has already left the depot.” The project has been approved and the community plan will not be changed — he just hoped they could avoid a similar situation with the city in the future.

Scott Moffatt, a vice president at Lincoln Property Company, described the designs for Aperture, which the board has never had issues with. The campus on Carmel Valley Road and Edgewood Bend Court will also be “highly amenitized” with a café, fitness center, event lawn, amphitheater, half basketball court, sand volleyball court, dog park, jogging trail, 100-space park and ride, and a bike shop with bikes for rent that employees can take out during lunch or peak times to help minimize traffic in the neighborhood.

While the parking garage is four levels, the site is lower than Edgewood Bend so it will be seen as ground level plus two stories visible from the road with one subterranean level. It will be landscaped to shield the view from residential units across the street.

There will be a new signalized entrance on Edgewood Bend and two other separate driveways to create as harmonious a traffic flow as possible, Moffatt said.

“Given that we’re doubling the size of the square footage, I want to ensure that the use be strictly maintained, that later on down the line the office buildings don’t get transferred to a more intensive use,” board member Laura Copic said, noting that Carmel Valley Road and Edgewood are already struggling with school traffic in the mornings and afternoons.

She said many access the Canyon Crest Academy parking lot from Edgewood Bend and it is one way in, one way out with the fire station there as well.

“That traffic situation is a safety hazard and a concern to me and I don’t see how it’s resolved in these plans,” Copic said. “I don’t see the solution there.”

The fire department has signed off on the plans and Moffatt said the other entrances and exits on Edgewood hope to get people in and out of Aperture as quickly as possible. Board member Allen Kashani noted that Pardee Homes will be adding a fifth and sixth lane between Del Mar Heights and SR-56 to Carmel Valley Road next summer.

PHR representative Tedesco pointed out that the Cielo affordable housing units across the street already have a huge problem with extra cars as the project is “significantly” under-parked. 

Residents are forced to park a few blocks away as no parking is allowed on Edgewood Bend and the road across Carmel Valley Road is private.

Moffatt said that they will need to address that issue in the future as the parking garage is for employees and the 100-stall park and ride lot is not meant to be a permanent parking option for residents.

Moffatt said that Lincoln Property Company does not intend to begin construction on Aperture Del Mar until they find a tenant.

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