Planning board continues review of El Camino Real assisted living facility

A rendering of the new El Camino Real Assisted Living facility adjacent to Stallions Crossing.
(Karen Billing)

Plans are in development for a new assisted living and memory care community on the St. John’s Garabed Armenian Church property on El Camino Real.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning board delayed its decision on the El Camino Real Assisted Living facility to June, encouraging the developers to meet with residents of neighboring Stallions Crossing, who have opposed the project due to impacts to views, privacy and concerns about El Camino Real traffic.

The project’s environmental impact report (EIR) is currently out for public comments through June 20. In his opposition, Stallions Crossing resident Matthew Cunningham said the EIR does not adequately consider the cumulative impacts of the site.

“The development does not fit in with our community plan,” Cunningham said at the board’s May 25 meeting. “It’s a massive structure…it will drastically change the look and overall feel of the neighborhood.”

Developers last presented to the Stallions Crossing, the gated community located adjacent to the site off Sea Country Lane, in January 2021.

“What we heard from the residents in 2021 was that there was nothing that we could do that would ever cause them to support the project,” said project consultant Marcela Escobar-Eck of the Atlantis Group. She said they took all of their comments and did their very best to address them, noting that many of the same concerns about density are the same they heard from neighbors back when Stallions Crossing was built.

Eck agreed the developers would set up the meeting in the coming weeks but she wanted to manage the expectations: “I don’t want to set up any expectations that we’re going to come back here with a two-story building. We’re not.”

The proposed El Camino Real Assisted Living community is a 105,568-square-foot building with 105 rooms and supporting amenities on a four-acre site owned by the church. The building would be designed in the Mediterranean architectural style with light-colored, adobe-like walls, dark wood details and terracotta tile roofing.

The development would be focused on the western portion of the site, leaving 1.12 acres of the eastern area as protected Multiple Habitat Preservation Area (MHPA) open space as required. The board was interested in ensuring that all public trails are accommodated and all wildlife corridors are preserved. Planning board member Jeff Heden also said he would like the entire project to stay out of the MHPA zone, including the temporary church trailers that are currently on site: “Other than that I think it’s a great project.”

The facility’s three-story buildings would be 40 feet tall, which exceeds the base zone’s 30-foot height limit. Escobar-Eck said no variances are required as an additional 10 feet of building height is allowed per each 10 feet increase of setbacks per San Diego Municipal Code. The neighboring church sanctuary reaches 93 feet high.

A rendering for El Camino Real Assisted Living.
(Karen Billing)

“The issue is the zone between,” said planning board Chair Frisco White of the project’s close proximity to the homes in Stallions Crossing. Neighbors described it as a three-story “monstrosity” right next to their two-story homes, looking into their master bedrooms.

Escobar-Eck said they have tried to be sensitive to the neighboring homes by providing as much green space as possible to serve as a landscaping buffer. The project requires 20-foot setbacks and the developers will provide setbacks of 30 feet from homes.

She also said the project is set down a 10-foot slope but the neighbors refuted that assessment, saying that the top of their homes and the structure are about on par.

Stallions Crossing residents said many chose to live in the community as it is close to open space and agricultural zone land, which calls for only low-density housing (nursing home facilities are conditionally allowed). Along with their views, they believe the area that provides tranquility and a break from development will be destroyed.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I think something of that density would be built,” said resident Pam Farmer. “This does not fit, this is huge.”

Residents also shared concerns about the traffic and safety of El Camino Real—the entry and exit to the project will be shared with the Garabed church and there will be no additional driveway curb cuts. One neighbor said that anyone who drives El Camino Real knows it is either a “race track or a parking lot”. The project is landlocked with only one way in and out, which is dangerous on a high-speed blind turn: “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Cunningham.

The board had many of the same questions back in 2011 with their approval of the church on the busy stretch of El Camino Real.

“We tried a hundred different ways to do a multitude of different things,” said Escobar-Eck, who also worked on the church project. They tried but could not make an agreement with the neighboring Evangelical Formosan Church to share an easement through their site.

According to the project’s traffic engineer under the city standard, the senior living project would generate a very low number of trips. The city would not support a traffic signal because of the curvature of the road and the area is more sensitive further down closer to Gonzales Canyon entrance and the Old El Camino Real intersection.

The project will be seeking the advisory board’s approval of a site development permit, conditional use permit and coastal development permit. The board is scheduled to meet next on Thursday, June 22 at the Carmel Valley Library.