Planning board reviews homes proposed on Via De La Valle slope

A black and white rendering of the proposed development on Via De La Valle.
(Karen Billing)

Terrain and traffic remained the primary concerns of the Carmel Valley Community Planning board in revisiting a plan for 35 new homes on the hillside above Via De La Valle at its Aug. 26 meeting.

The housing development on the slope has been in the planning process for the last 16 years on the 22-acre site, next to the Santa Fe Downs development, east of the Armstrong Garden Center and across from the San Dieguito River Park. The existing pipe that cuts through the hillside terrain will align with the future driveway into the project.

For the record:

3:22 p.m. Sept. 9, 2021According to the city of San Diego, the widening of Via De La Valle to four lanes is required mitigation to a previously approved project and is the obligation of Black Mountain Ranch LLC. It has not been scheduled at this point.

The planning board last reviewed the project in 2017 and Chair Frisco White said he has always been bothered by the project because of the traffic issues and because the site is so steep: “It shouldn’t be zoned for that kind of density when it’s basically a hill,” White said.

The planning board voted to continue a decision to its September meeting with hopes that the city can further address traffic impacts and the project’s ingress and egress; and that they might get a better understanding of the design and required retaining walls.

About 25% of the 22-acre site will be developed, according to a presentation provided by architect James Alcorn and developer Hamid Bagheri.

A rendering of homes on the hillside above Via De La Valle.

The project proposes 35 residential units including a mixture of 13 detached single-family homes, 14 duplexes and eight flats with a community area and swimming pool. Four units are reserved for affordable housing.

Development of the sloped site will be achieved with some cuts and fills, as well as retaining walls that Alcorn said will be heavily landscaped with foliage cascading over them.

Bagheri and his team have worked with the city for a long time, since 2005, and several adjustments have been made so that they do not require a specific plan amendment, according to Lesley Henegar, senior planner for the city.

Henegar said that the project is consistent with the precise plan which allows one to two dwelling units per acre so they come in under the maximum of what they can build by right. With 22 acres, Henegar said they theoretically could have done 44 units.

The project will require a rezone, site development permit and coastal development permit.

Alcorn said they plan to line a half-mile frontage of the project with high carbon-producing California sycamore trees, add a sidewalk for pedestrian connectivity and add a left-turn lane for access on Via De La Valle.

The planning board questioned whether there was room to add a turn lane on the two-lane thoroughfare, as it was revealed at the meeting that the Via De La Valle widening will not be happening at this point.

A project about 18 years in the making, Via De La Valle was planned to be widened from four lanes from San Andres to El Camino Real. Henegar said the city had been working with the developers to incorporate the widening but as it will not be scheduled at this point, the project is moving forward as is—she said the development services department has determined there is space for a turn lane.

“As someone who travels the street often, I’m a little shocked to think about the idea of carving into that hill there and adding homes on a one-lane in each direction road that I’m now hearing isn’t going to be expanded,” said Michelle Strauss, the planning board’s new Pacific Highlands Ranch representative.

Board members also shared concerns about the density, traffic safety, the integrity of the hill, whether units in the project would truly be affordable and the practicality of the sidewalk: “For that kind of a road, that would be kind of a scary walk,” said board member Jeffrey Heden.

Vice Chair Barry Schultz was hesitant to continue the discussion on the project another month—he has stated that he will not support it.

“I’m sensitive to the idea that they have some development rights and they can do it by right…but that doesn’t mean I have to approve the project. I think this site is a poor location, anybody that’s been along that road understands that,” said Vice Chair Barry Schultz. “Unfortunately whoever zoned that property, that was a mistake.”

The planning board’s next meeting will be held Thursday, Sept. 23.