Community group questions approval of Torrey Hills office complex

Torrey View, a new life science complex under construction on El Camino Real and Carmel Mountain Road in Torrey Hills.
(Courtesy Breakthrough)

Grading has begun on Torrey View, a new life science research campus on the corner of El Camino Real and Carmel Mountain Road in Torrey Hills.

Some local residents are pushing back against the development, which they believe does not comply with their community plan that calls for less square footage and less traffic in the area. Members of the Torrey Hills Community Planning Group feel that they have been left out of the city’s approval process and would like a voice in the development moving forward.

The site as viewed from a Torrey Hills residential development.
(Guy Ravad)

Breakthrough Properties, a life science real estate development company, 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 also include a below-grade parking garage covered by landscaping.

A rendering shows white, modern-style buildings with lots of glass, centered around interior green spaces. The campus is expected to support more than 1,000 permanent scientific research jobs.

“The team at Breakthrough Properties has been working closely with the city and project consultants on a plan for a best-in-class research and development campus that is consistent with the Torrey Hills Community Plan and underlying zoning,” said Susie Harborth, executive vice president of business operations for Breakthrough Properties in a statement.

“Our goal is to create flexible and innovative life science environments across three main research buildings that will help meet the expansion requirements of San Diego’s fast-growing life sciences companies and accommodate firms looking to gain a foothold inside the city’s most dynamic scientific research cluster,” she said. “At the same time, the forthcoming campus will complement and enhance the surrounding community through the inclusion of extensively landscaped green spaces, multiple pedestrian and bicycle pathways, and a series of informal outdoor gathering areas.”

The city’s Development Services Department (DSD) determined that the life science research campus is a ministerial project and does not require a community plan amendment, California Environmental Quality Act review, traffic study, community planning group review or any additional approval from San Diego City Council.

According to District 1 Councilmember Joe LaCava’s office, DSD determined that the project is consistent with the city general plan and Torrey Hills Community Plan and concluded that research and development uses are permitted in the zone “by right.”

“They’re entitled to be research and development and life sciences. What they are not entitled to is to not follow the community plan,” said Guy Ravad, a member of the Torrey Hills Community Planning Group.

The planning group found out about the project in early spring and started a subcommittee in an effort to find out more information.

The Torrey Hills Community Plan is based on average daily trips (ADT)s and limits how much can be built in certain zones. Through their own due diligence and research, the planning board does not believe there are any remaining ADTs in the area: “They might be exceeding the total ADT in our community,” Ravad said.

The site is directly adjacent to the residential communities of San Rafael, Trilogy, Mont Claire, Torrey Point and Torrey View. The majority of office buildings along El Camino Real are two stories with some four-story buildings further down the road in the Torrey Reserve Business Park. Per the community plan, consideration of scale and compatibility should guide design principles when industrial uses are built near residential uses.

“This is one of our residential areas. There are some two to three-story buildings in the area but this one is so egregious to be four to five stories high,” said resident Tiffany Howell. “People are upset about it, especially those that live across the street.”

Howell created a group called the Torrey Hills Community Coalition. Through a GoFundMe, they are raising money to retain a land use attorney to determine if the correct process was followed in the project’s approval.

While not required to go before the planning group, and the planning group is only discretionary, Ravad said with a review of the plans the board could weigh in on potential impacts on community character and traffic, setbacks and landscape screening and potential community benefits.

Without any review of the plans and site work beginning in July, Ravad and Torrey Hills Community Planning Group Chair Kathryn Burton said they have already been disappointed by the process. Burton and Ravad documented as mature Torrey Pines trees were taken down on the property, without notification to the Torrey Hills Maintenance Assessment District (MAD).

“Breakthrough Properties’ development process with the city has been almost entirely devoid of transparency,” Burton wrote in a letter to city staff, Councilmember LaCava and Mayor Todd Gloria. “Our community plan has been nullified and now our MAD assets have been destroyed.”

Since the planning board found out about the project they have questioned how they were able to build bigger than allowed in the plan. Something similar happened across the SR-56 with the new Aperture office complex in Pacific Highlands Ranch, off Carmel Valley Road.

Members of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board were similarly confused as to how it could’ve been approved since the community plan called for an employment center of 300,000 square feet but they were allowed to build a five-building, 630,000-square-foot office complex.

The city contended that while the square footage differed, the traffic impact was the same as the corporate headquarter use had less daily trips than the multi-tenant office building envisioned by the community plan. The project was found to be consistent with the community plan as it did not exceed the maximum ADTs.

In Torrey View’s case, DSD determined that the approval could be done ministerially using the lower trip generation rate for research and development use, allowing for the increased square footage.

From their own due diligence, Ravad and the planning board believe that both the ADTs and “buildable intensity” exceed what is spelled out in Torrey Hills’ community plan.

“The only way to find out the truth is hire a land use attorney and find out,” Ravad said. “This is not to stop development. It is to get compliant development.”

Breakthrough believes they are building to what is allowed and that they have followed all of the necessary steps in the city process. According to Ben Boyce, a spokesperson for Breakthrough Properties, they would like to be a good neighbors. They have launched a new website to provide project updates and offered to present to the planning group at a future meeting.

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Learn more about the Torrey Hills Coalition at