Calls continue for changes in Flower Hill renovation plan

Concerns raised by neighbors, city of Solana Beach

As Flower Hill Promenade’s owners seek prompt approval for their renovations plans, the Solana Beach City Council has joined area residents in asking for revisions.

“There are some very serious omissions in this document that was provided as the draft EIR,” Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner said recently as the council unanimously approved sending a letter to the city of San Diego on the mall’s draft environmental impact report.

Jeffrey Essakow, owner of the mall, has said that he hopes to start construction on the 61,000-square-foot add-on project by early 2011. The plans to “refresh” the 30-year-old center have changed over the last six years, with its scale reduced twice in response to public input.

As it stands now, the plan includes a 35,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market to replace the UltraStar Cinema; 29,000 square feet of new retail and boutique office space; and a four-story, three-floor 393-space parking garage hidden behind Whole Foods.

There will be a new public courtyard where the old center meets the new center — a meeting spot with tables and a fountain.

San Diego city officials are requiring that the developer move the entrance to Flower Hill Drive off San Andres to the north, from in front of the Taste of Thai restaurant to behind it. A left-turn pocket onto Flower Hill Drive would also be added.

Solana Beach officials voted on April 14 to ask San Diego City officials to address unanswered questions on land use, traffic, parking and the effects of the Del Mar Fairgrounds master plan and the proposed Interstate-5 expansion in a revised and re-circulated draft EIR.

Solana Beach, which borders the mall on the north side, provides Flower Hill’s sewer and emergency services. Solana Beach officials will submit a matrix outlining 31 specific issues, including deficiencies in the draft EIR’s traffic counts and conclusions, the proposal’s effects on lighting, noise, pollution, and its bulk and scale being incompatible with the surrounding community.

While the project’s size and increased traffic continue concern some neighbors who spoke at a Carmel Valley Community Planning Group meeting on April 13, nearly all of the center’s neighbors strongly oppose the realignment of Flower Hill Drive behind the center. Not even the Flower Hill group is in favor of the realignment.

Re-aligning the road would also put it directly across from the entrance to Armstrong Garden Center and Chase Bank.

“The left turn pocket will add a traffic nightmare for my tenants,” said Anne Fletcher, whose family owns the Chase center.

She said it would be very difficult for people to get in and out of the center, and proposed that Flower Hill be required to widen the road at that intersection.

The change is most offensive to residents of Spindrift, whose community, located behind the shopping center, is accessed from Flower Hill Road.

Steve Wilmore, a 15-year Spindrift resident, said realigning the road would make it too tight a drive and decrease their line of sight for traffic traveling at high speeds down San Andres.

“The entrance to our homes would be like a McDonald’s drive-through on steroids,” said Wilmore.

While Protea Properties, Flower Hills’ property management company, was seeking a May recommendation of approval from the planning board, chair Frisco White said he doesn’t think the project’s design is finished, especially in regard to the Flower Hill Drive re-alignment.

Chris Wall, president of Southwest Strategies, a community relations firm that represents the shopping center, said they would work on a solution and still aim for May or June as they hope to have the final plans approved by the San Diego City Council in July or September.

Wall said the drive of the renovation is for Flower Hill to continue to be a viable shopping center with unique retailers such as Pangea, Geppetto’s and Pannikin. He said the new Whole Foods would continue that tradition as it attracts a different kind of retailer than a chain grocery store.

Board member Anne Harvey asked if Whole Foods would drive the rents up so high that tenants would have to move out.

“We’ve watched a lot of our favorite shops disappear,” Harvey said, wanting assurance that places like Pannikin would be able to stay.

Essakow assured Harvey that the coffee shop has signed a long-term lease.

“We realize that tenants like Pannikin are a draw to the center and there is no incentive to get rid of those kinds of tenants,” said Rose Jabin, Flower Hill manager.

The project’s environmental impact report is currently out for review; the traffic study portion attracted the most attention from residents.

The study has found the busiest times will be on Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays. It is estimated that traffic will increase as a result of the renovation by 4.5 percent near the freeway, 4.3 percent at the front entrance and 5.1 percent from San Andres to Highland Drive.

To help improve the traffic flow, Wall said the entrance to the center off Via de la Valle would be changed to two lanes in and three lanes out. Problem parking spots will also be removed — ones that are difficult to maneuver in and out of, and cause stacking with cars coming into the center.

Residents complained at the meeting that the traffic study did not factor in Del Mar Fairgrounds events, such as the fair and the races. Harvey agreed, noting that the Fairgrounds’ planned expansion could make “every day a special event.”

Robert Vicino, a longtime opponent of Flower Hill’s expansion, also raised concerns about the plans, calling them “misleading.” He said that the community should get to see a three-dimensional model of the renovation because drawings can be deceptive.

Wall said it is unlikely they would make the model as the cost is too great — it can run over $10,000, he said.

Vicino said his issue with the project is that it will be bigger in size and scale than anything in the area. He said it is oversized and “Orange County-ish.”

“I’m not concerned about the view,” said Vicino, who lives above the center. “My concern is the urbanization of this part of town ... It still needs a step back.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Horn Contributed to this report.