Developers, library face confusion over civic space in Pacific Highlands Ranch

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board is working to resolve a disconnect in Pacific Highlands Ranch between the Village’s approved plans for a green, open space corridor and the site of the future Pacific Highlands Ranch library. The developers of the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch on Carmel Valley Road and Village Center Loop Road were permitted to develop the 1.5 acres of city-owned land as a civic use, however, the library is operating under the assumption that the acreage is theirs to plan and develop.

“The community wants that open space, we supported the project for the open space and we don’t want to be told that we can’t have it,” said planning board chair Frisco White at the April 27 meeting. “We hope to have a positive resolution because we, as a community and the board, want the park and we want it now. We need a commitment from the city that our desires will be fulfilled.”

The Village went through an “exhaustive” planning process with the planning board and the community, including debates about a grocery store and movie theater, going back to 2007.

The Village design approved in 2013 was built around a one-and-a-half-acre library site, essentially a square in the middle of the plans for a green vista parkway, connecting the Village’s town square with the future community center and park across the street. The grassy open space also includes plans for a dog park, trails, passive seating areas, an orchard and a community garden.

An email campaign was launched last week by Pacific Highlands Ranch residents to the city staff, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Councilmember Barbara Bry requesting that the library does not delay the Village plans.

“That park is how many of our kids will walk and bike to Pacific Trails Middle School and Canyon Crest Academy,” read a letter written by Manjeet Ranu, a Pacific Highlands Ranch resident and former vice chair of the planning board. “The developer is ready to build it for us and have it open in 2018. But the city’s library staff is unlawfully and inappropriately obstructing its completion.”

San Diego Public Library Director Misty Jones explained that when the library came into the project in 2015, they were told they had two lots for the library, a total of three acres.

The city purchased the land after the Village design had already been permitted with the development of one of those two lots. The library thought they would be building a 1.5-acre facility plus a 1.5-acre civic use site surrounding the new library.

“We did not realize that there had been an approved plan for a civic site already voted on and approved by the community,” Jones said. “As soon as we realized that the community had very legitimate concerns about moving forward with this and did not want to wait for the design we reached out to come to this meeting because we wanted to work together.”

“It was never our intention to obstruct anything,” Jones said, noting they will meet with the developer to work on a plan that works for everyone. “We’re committed to what the community wants to do with that space. Ultimately our goal is to provide the best library for this community.”

While the developers Coast Income Properties and Wermers Properties were seeking a commitment that their plans would be allowed to proceed as approved, Elif Cetin, the city’s assistant deputy director of public works, said they could not make that commitment yet.

“We cannot completely ignore the opportunity to use the 1.5-acre lot because we have requirements we need to meet for parking or storm water treatment,” Cetin said, noting there is also the issue of who will maintain the civic use landscaping. “It may not be accurate to promise that we can fit the library on 1.5 acres.”

White stressed that he doesn’t want the civic land to be used for parking when there will be ample shared parking on site at the Village and as the intent of Pacific Highlands Ranch is to be a walkable community.

Jones said it is the hope that library and city staff can meet with the developers and come up with a plan within the next 30 to 40 days. There is a timeline the planning board would like to stick to as the Pacific Highlands Ranch community park and recreation center is expected to break ground soon, aiming for a potential September 2018 opening — they would like those civic uses to be linked.

Board members expressed confusion on how this situation occurred. As construction progresses on the 331 residential units in the Village, Pacific Highlands Ranch representative Shreya Sasaki said the community doesn’t want to be looking at a dirt lot, and they want children and families to have the safe route to school and open space amenity they were promised.

“We want it to continue to move forward. We’ve already gone through the whole planning process so I don’t want this to get held up in he said/she said. We want to continue to work together on the actual library itself,” Sasaki said. “I think that we all as a community get disappointed in large bureaucracy. I don’t understand how a city department doesn’t know what another city department has done…It’s a little disappointing because we’ve spent so much time on this.”

The city is hoping to begin the design process on the library this fall once a consultant agreement is approved, involving workshops to gather public input on what the community envisions for the new facility. The library expects to receive full funding by 2019, work on design for a year and a half, go out to bid for construction and open in 2021.

“We are committed to providing the community with what they want,” Jones said. “However we come to an agreement to do that, we will.”

“We hope you will continue to have an open mind and enthusiasm to help us design this library,” Cetin said. “We are excited to build this project after this issue settles and resolves.”