Carmel Valley planning board discusses ways to hold developers accountable to approved plans

For nearly 10 years, Pacific Highlands Ranch resident Karen Dubey has made an effort to be actively involved in the planning of her community—from discussions over the design of the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch and the architecture of the new recreation center to bringing the heights down from four to three stories at the Laterra townhome development on Village Center Loop Road.

Back in 2012, Dubey said she and fellow Airoso homeowners met with Laterra's engineering design firm in their community and discussed not only lowering the heights but they were promised that the project would be set back 30 feet from the road, with a city sidewalk and space for landscaping in front of the homes to match those across the street.

“Airoso residents were surprised last October or November to see zero- to three-feet setbacks. These people when they take their shoes off at their front door, their shoes will be on the city sidewalk. This is not what we were promised,” said Dubey, taking her concerns before the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board on Feb. 22.

She told the board that this is not the only time that local developers have engaged in a “willing or unwilling disinformation campaign” throughout the planning process to satisfy community support. She gave another example of how the parking garage for the new Sola apartment homes in the Village is visible from Village Center Loop Road when the community and planning board were told it that it would be hidden.

“Our community has been blighted,” Dubey said. “I feel that community members and the planning board were taken advantage of.”

While it’s too late to do anything now, as plans are long-approved and construction underway, she discussed with the board some options to prevent these situations from happening again, such as making development plans more accessible to the community via a planning board website. Dubey said often times the plans look like “cartoon drawings” and don’t really have the details or information that the community needs to know in order to provide meaningful input.

In addition to making plans more readily available, Dubey suggested that the board request the use of story poles when there are questions about heights or setbacks and that when there are sub-meetings, like the one attended by Airoso residents and the engineering firm, a board member is in attendance and brings minutes back to the board.

“I hope we can work together in the future because these are things that are already built and already have permits but it’s a real shame the amount of time you guys go through, and all of the years that we’ve been working, to have in the end such a disaster,” Dubey said.

Board member Debbie Lokanc agreed that the board should work to “hold developers accountable” and specify in their motions what is most important to the people living in the community. Chair Frisco White said that most board motions do include conditions (their split vote on One Paseo included 11 conditions for approval for the planning commission and city council) and that he does make an effort for a planning board member to be in attendance at sub-meetings.

In the case of the 69-unit Laterra project, White said he believes there may have been a disconnect regarding the promised 30-foot setback as the engineering firm did the entitlement phase while another team prepared the construction documents.

At the Feb. 22 meeting, a resident who lives near the proposed Lighthouse Ridge development in Carmel Valley, said she was encouraged by the board’s discussion as she has had experience with being told one thing by the developer and then seeing that they do the exact opposite in the process.

Lighthouse Ridge is a new housing development planned on a vacant lot at the end of Lighthouse Way (in the neighborhood behind Congregation Beth Am) that includes new homes on a slope above Chelterham Terrace. The project’s neighbors, as well as the planning board, have expressed concerns about the development’s impact on designated open space.

“I’m very concerned that we’re seeing similar types of behavior,” said the resident. “I certainly support the follow up, that developers don’t change things on the fly.”

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