Torrey View construction prompts height concerns

Torrey View under construction in Torrey Hills.

As the new Torrey View development rises up in the Torrey Hills community, neighbors are counting floors and questioning if they were misled by developers about the project’s height. Buildings presented to be five stories tall appear to be closer to nine or 10 stories, towering above their residential homes.

“We said these buildings would be big…I think the fact is they appear even bigger than we warned and clearly stand out as some of the largest biotech structures around,” said project neighbor Guy Ravad, also a member of the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board. “Except for downtown San Diego near the port, there is nothing even close.”

Torrey View under construction in Torrey Hills.

The new 442,500-square-foot life science research campus is located on the corner of El Camino Real and Carmel Mountain Road. Plans include three four-to-five-story buildings, an underground parking garage and a tenant-serving clubhouse with amenities like dining and recreation.

The scale of the building is not as extreme as it currently appears, according to the developer Breakthrough Properties and the city of San Diego.

According to the city, the buildings appear taller because all of the steel framework is currently visible. The developers had to dig down to build the underground parking garage and according to Breakthrough, some of the below grade levels will not be visible once the site has been filled and “heavily landscaped”. There will be no surface parking lot and the tenant amenity building will feature a green roof when completed.

Per the city, “Building C”, the highest structure, will top out at the height of 80 feet above grade, five stories above grade plus a mezzanine and four stories located below grade.

“Breakthrough Properties is committed to delivering an exceptional project that will deliver high-paying jobs and a complementary design for the neighborhood with attractive architecture, landscaping and green space,” said Sarah Williams, job site representative with Breakthrough. “We will continue to work hard to keep the local community informed about our progress and to minimize inconveniences.”

A rendering of Torrey View.
(Karen Billing)

Several planning board members have been opposed to the project as there was no public participation required in its planning. Breakthrough acquired the site in October 2020 and the planning group did not find out about the project until early spring 2021. The developers presented information about the project to the group in September 2021, however, grading on the project had already begun the month before.

The city’s Development Services Department (DSD) determined that the life science research campus was only a ministerial review project and did 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.

DSD found that the project was consistent with the city general plan and the Torrey Hills Community Plan and concluded that research and development uses are permitted in the zone “by right.”

Some planning board members disagreed: they do not believe the project fits the community plan, both in the number of daily traffic trips generated and its large scale, which is inconsistent with the majority of office buildings along El Camino Real that are two to four-stories.

While the ground levels may be filled in, Ravad said the solid white “mezzanine” appears to add another story to the top of the building.

“What has been done to this residential neighborhood is totally incompatible and deceptive,” said Kathryn Burton, chair of the Torrey Hills board. “The city has sacrificed the integrity of the community plan in order to pander to the deep pockets of a global developer.”

The planning board has also pushed back against the project’s removal of eight mature Torrey pines trees along El Camino Real that were paid for and maintained by the community’s Maintenance Assessment District (MAD). Neither the planning board nor the MAD was notified about the removals before they were taken down and the MAD recently commissioned an appraisal from a certified arborist to document the lost value of the trees.

Gene Bordson, the certified arborist from West Coast Arborists, evaluated the trees by Google street view imagery and their tree inventory database. The mature trees were deemed to be of good health and structure.

“Trees provide numerous valuable benefits, including increased real estate values, conserving energy, removing atmospheric contaminants, moderating stormwater runoff, sequestering carbon, wildlife habitat, improving physical/ mental aspects of human health, and increasing social capital,” stated the arborist’s report. “These benefits generally increase with size/age.”

The report estimated that the eight Torrey pine trees were valued at a combined appraised cost of $115,000 before they were removed. If replacement trees were to be planted somewhere else as a mitigation effort, the report stated it would take approximately 124 trees to replace their cross-sectional trunk area.

Breakthrough’s landscape plan states that it is providing 27,000 square feet of planted areas more than what is required by the city.

Seven of the site’s original Torrey pines trees remain and Breakthrough plans to plant 49 additional Torrey pines—33 of them placed at street frontage areas. Breakthrough also plans to plant 91 additional trees (such as jacarandas, Engleman oaks and London planes) on the project perimeter for a total of 140 new trees. There will also be additional trees planted in the project’s interior.

Burton said planting immature Torrey pines to replace 25-year-old, mature trees is “disrespectful and wasteful.”

By August, the buildings’ white, textured skin will be installed. The developers are aiming for completion in the early third quarter of 2023.

Breakthrough said they had been expecting to be on the planning board’s agenda this month but the June 21 meeting was cancelled.