New medical research campus proposed in Torrey Hills


Plans are underway for the development of a proposed new medical research campus on the vacant corner of Carmel Mountain Road and El Camino Real in Torrey Hills. Breakthrough Properties, a life science real estate development company, has acquired the nine-acre site and plans to build three four-to-five-story buildings for a total of 442,500 square feet.

The plans include a below-grade parking garage covered by landscaping and, according to Breakthrough, the three research buildings are positioned to preserve open space and canyon views. The campus is expected to support more than 1,000 permanent scientific research jobs.

“We’re excited to be a part of building upon this community’s successes and to support San Diego’s growing life science economy by developing a state-of-the-art campus that will create new job opportunities and incorporate community amenities, including landscaped green spaces, informal outdoor gathering areas and dedicated pathways for pedestrians and bicycles,” said Susie Harborth, executive vice president of Breakthrough Properties in a statement.

The vacant lot at the corner of Carmel Mountain Road and El Camino Real is planned for a new office complex.
(Courtesy Google Maps)

The development is concerning for members of the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board. Chair Kathryn Burton said that the project does not comply with the community plan which calls for much less square footage in the area. She said the project could have a negative impact on residents’ quality of life as well as increased traffic on the community streets.

“It is problematic when they are asking to build such monolithic structures surrounded by single-family homes,” Burton said of the site that is directly adjacent to the residential communities of San Rafael, Trilogy, Mont Claire, Torrey Point and Torrey View. “It’s so important that development is compatible with the residential components of the adjacent land.”

The project was an informational item on the Torrey Hills planning board’s April 20 agenda and the developers were not present for a discussion. That night, the board established a subcommittee to get more proactively involved in the project’s progress.

Burton said the Torrey Hills Community Plan is based on average daily trips (ADT)s and limits how much can be built in certain zones—the planning board does not believe there are any remaining ADTs in the area. Currently, neither a community plan amendment or a traffic study is expected to be required of the new construction—according to Breakthrough, the project will only require the issuance of grading and building permits.

“It seems to be revisiting a problem we had with other developers in our community history when projects go through the community plan amendments or have no oversight,” said board member Guy Ravad. “This is essentially creating a Two Paseo in Torrey Hills.”

A five-story building especially, Ravad said, would be an outlier in the community as the majority of office buildings along El Camino Real are two stories with some four-story buildings in the Torrey Reserve Business Park. Per the community plan, consideration of scale and compatibility should guide design principles when industrial uses are near residential uses.

Ravad said the planning board would like to be involved in ensuring that the development goes through the correct process.

Breakthrough Properties maintains that its design is consistent with the community plan and zoning.

“We have worked closely with city staff to confirm the project we are envisioning is consistent with the Torrey Hills Community Plan and all underlying zoning. We expect to be able to share our plans with the local community in the near future,” Harborth said in a statement. “We look forward to partnering with the community, which is hometown to many of us at Breakthrough, the Torrey Hills Planning Group and the city to create a life sciences campus that will generate significant benefits for the community while also enhancing San Diego’s position as one of the world’s most innovative cities.”