Merge 56 proposes new town center, cinema on Camino Del Sur

On May 3, the Rancho Penasquitos Community Planning Board approved Merge 56, a new mixed-use residential and retail center off Camino Del Sur and SR-56.

Gary Levitt of Seabreeze Properties is seeking a community plan amendment from the city. He hopes to get the project before the San Diego Planning Commission and City Council this year for approval to potentially begin construction next year.

The site was originally part of the larger 147-acre Rhodes Crossing project approved by the city in 2004. Levitt purchased the 40-acre commercial portion of the property in 2013 — it was originally approved as a “big box” self-storage and commercial center with a sea of parking; instead Levitt plans for a different type of project utilizing “outstanding” design.

“We want to create a town center, a place that people want to live near and go to, meet a friend for coffee or hang out, that’s the essence of the project,” said Levitt, who recently completed construction on the Merge mixed-use project on Carmel Country Road and Carmel Mountain Road and is also the owner of the Torrey Hills Shopping Center.

Merge 56 features anchor retail buildings around a walkable central green plaza. The project’s 525,000 square feet of commercial and office space call for uses such as a movie theater, grocery store, fitness center and other retail. Instead of the large surface parking lot, there will be a parking structure hidden behind the buildings.

“(The plaza) is what thrills me about this project, the landscaping and the dynamics going on within the spaces,” said Thom Clark, the planning board’s land use subcommittee chair.

The residential component of 242 dwellings includes a mix of two- to three-story townhomes, single-family units and affordable housing units.

The project includes an extension of Camino Del Sur and Carmel Mountain Road, providing much improved connections for area residents. While some residents wanted to see the roads expanded to four-lane roads, the developers believe the two-lane roads are the right size with less impact on the surrounding environment.

Merge 56 will also provide a missing trail link with a formal trail connection between the Del Mar Mesa Preserve and Darkwood Canyon. The developers will also replace low-quality vernal pools in the area with high-quality, sustainable vernal pools and contribute $30 million of Facilities Benefit Assessment fees to be used by the community.

The remaining acreage of the Rhodes Crossing property surrounding Merge 56 is planned to be developed as residential homes. Residents have expressed concerns about the density of the new residential element and the impacts on traffic and public safety.