PHR residents ask for more tennis courts, less field in new park design

The two proposed layouts for McGonigle Canyon Neighborhood Park in Pacific Highlands Ranch.

On Nov. 12, community members reviewed two proposed designs for a new park in Pacific Highlands Ranch, many saying there was too much field and green space, preferring instead more tennis, pickleball and basketball courts.

Both presented designs for the new five-acre McGonigle Canyon Neighborhood Park include a variety of features ringing an open green field but residents said the field takes up too much space away from other desired uses. Pacific Highlands Ranch resident Kalpana Gidwani said neither of the plans serve the needs expressed by the local tennis community in the first park planning session: “Why do we need this green field when we have a much bigger version of this green field in the new rec center park by Pacific Trails?”

The proposed $8 million park is on the corner of Solterra Vista Parkway and Caminito Mendiola, adjacent to the Del Mar Union School District’s future school. A draft general development plan for the park is expected to be approved at the next Pacific Highlands Ranch Recreation Group meeting on Jan. 12, 2021 and then move onto the San Diego Park and Recreation Board for final approval. The park is currently scheduled to be open to the public in late 2023.

At the Nov. 10 meeting JT Barr, design principal at Schmidt Design, presented the two plans for the park he said were based on the input received in September. At the September meeting, participants showed high levels of interest for a comfort station (restrooms), a children’s playground, walking loop, picnic shelters, passive recreation fields, lots of shade and hardcourts for basketball, tennis and pickleball. Pickleball is a popular sport that is a mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong played on a smaller court with solid wood paddles and a ball similar to a wiffle ball.

Barr said after the workshop, they received a number of emails with further input including 31 emails for pickleball courts, two for tennis courts and one each for a community room and gazebo, ADA and inclusive improvements, and a request for a park name change.

The “canyon and coastal” design of option A includes a pedestrian circular loop path around the park, comfort station, a children’s playground area that takes advantage of the natural slope, a large community pavilion and a shaded picnic area under a bosque of trees. At the center of the park is the large flexible turf area with a youth baseball/softball backstop, infield and dugouts, surrounded by trees. This design includes one lit tennis court, two pickleball courts and a basketball court.

“The second design alternative really embraces that notion of diversity that we heard from the community feedback,” Barr said.

The “community quilt” design of option B includes similar features to option A but instead has two multi-use hard courts. Within each court there is one tennis court, striping for two pickleball courts and two half basketball courts.

Both plans also include a parking lot with 45 spaces and a scenic overlook spot on the high point of Solterra Vista, looking out to the canyon.

In a quick survey of the 50 participants on the Zoom call, 85% preferred the first design but many opinions were shared during public comment.

“Overall I’m highly disappointed in both of them, especially B when you termed it ‘diversity’ and I do not feel that you brought in the diversity of our community at all from the feedback,” said Karen Dubey, chairperson of the Pacific Highlands Ranch Recreation Group. “This community has a lot of people that play pickleball and tennis and instead we have 80% of the area covered by field and softball.”

From her experience at PHR Community Park, Dubey said the people who want softball want nighttime softball with lights. She said if the baseball/softball field is removed from the plan there could be the potential to move the field at a different angle and add more tennis and pickleball courts.

Several people asked for more tennis courts to meet the needs of the community, stating that one court would not be enough. “The tennis court availability in Carmel Valley is horrible,” said resident Phil Pellouchoud.

The only public tennis facility in the area is at Carmel Valley Recreation Center. Managed by Carmel Valley Tennis, the four courts have fees of $5 an hour and require advance reservations. In non-COVID times, four courts at Torrey Pines High School are open to the public first come, first serve for free after school hours or weekends when not in use by students or a permitted group.

Per community input, individual tennis and basketball courts like in plan A would be preferable to a multi-use court so users would not have to compete for the use.

PHR Recreation Group member Marilee Pacelli said that there will likely not be a reservation system for the park’s courts and it will be first come, first serve.

While some comments said there is no need for that large of a green space, Pacelli addressed the need for field space for youth recreational sports and the benefit of open space. She said the nearby PHR Community Park is filled with soccer and other sports practices from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on the weekends that grass is full.

“Having open space out there is really one of your better options, whether you have a softball diamond or not. Having that open space, that’s where your community goes,” Pacelli said.

Resident Diane Toomey also spoke up in favor of the open space and of the design of option A that complemented the natural topography of the neighborhood. “I don’t really want a bunch of hard spaces in my community,” she said. “The park should stay a park and not turn into a place where people don’t want to pay to go play tennis. There’s plenty of clubs in the area.”

Many participants also questioned the need for so many parking spaces when the land could be used for other uses.

“I’m not a fan of either concept A or concept B because I cannot stomach the idea of a parking lot. We really do not need additional parking spaces especially with the school plan,” said Kurt Knutson, a Pacific Highlands Ranch East HOA and PHR Management Association board member. “I see this as a community park. We’re sorely in need of places to play tennis and basketball and it would be nice to have that within walking or biking distance.”

Barr said the parking is determined by the city of San Diego’s design consultant guide, per the park size and uses in the park. There is no parking along Sorrento Vista Parkway and while there will not be a joint use agreement with the school district, the school parking lot will likely be available for parking during non-school hours.

During public input, there were also requests for more shade, particularly on the children’s playground, as well as requests for more seating areas, security cameras and outdoor workout stations along the walking loop. Dubey said she did not believe the park was ready for approval at the next meeting and asked the city to come back with more options.

At the Jan. 12 meeting, Barr said they expect for the plans to have more design details such as picnic tables and benches.

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