Carmel Valley planners voice concerns about proposed retirement community

By Karen Billing

Carmel Valley Community Planning Board members say they are very concerned that the San Diego Planning Commission made a decision based on incorrect information, leading to a violation of Proposition A. The decision was made at a Dec. 15 hearing regarding the classification of use for Rancho Del Mar, a proposed continuing care retirement community on Via de la Valle.

In the planning board’s interpretation of Prop A, any change for more permissive uses on the agriculturally zoned land needs to go to a vote of the people. However, the commission decided 4-2 that a continuing care facility is consistent with an “intermediate care facility,” an intensity of use that was allowed in the zone prior to 1984. The commission’s decision made the project not subject to a vote of the people; only a land development code amendment would be needed.

“It was a real shock to us and we want the city attorney to have to explain how this can be,” said planning board member Anne Harvey.

The decision cannot be reconsidered nor can it be appealed, so the planning board’s only recourse is to find some clarity on a cloudy issue. The board voted to send a letter on the “very complicated, very technical” issue at its Feb. 1 regional issues subcommittee meeting.

“The letter is not meant to cast aspersions on the staff or the applicant,” planning board chair Frisco White said. “We want a clear understanding of the city attorney’s interpretation.”

The Rancho Del Mar plan for the 23.88-gross-acre site adjacent to the polo fields, includes 50 skilled nursing units and 174 care casitas with 18 acres of open space courtyards. Across the street on El Camino Real will be a 29,147 wellness center.

Rancho Del Mar’s plans will depend largely on how the Via de la Valle and El Camino Real widening is handled. If the roundabout option is used, the city will take 2.55 acres from Rancho Del Mar and will be forced to eliminate the wellness center.

According to the board’s letter, the information in the report to the planning commission was “far from complete” and led the commission to believe that if they determined a “continuing care facility” was the same as a “intermediate care facility” the project would not have to go before voters for a vote.

The argument was presented that because “intermediate care facilities” were allowed in the agricultural/open space zone prior to 1984 then this proposal should be allowed without a phase-shift vote.

“It bothers me that if the use is determined similar, you don’t have to go to a vote of the people,” Harvey said. “That was a stretch, I don’t think the planning commission had the information to determine. It didn’t make sense to me.”

San Diego municipal code regulations state that hospitals, intermediate care facilities and nursing facilities may be permitted with a conditional use permit, but also that those facilities are not permitted in agricultural zones in Prop A lands or within floodplains in the Coastal Overlay Zone.

The board felt that the restrictions on this land should have been brought up at the Dec. 15 hearing but were not. At no point during the hearing did the commissioners take an action to remove the application from the restrictions of Prop A.

“It was a gruesome performance by city staff,” Harvey said.

“Why is a use permitted prior to the passage of Prop A any rationale for this kind of hearing when it was authored by and widely approved by the voters of San Diego for the purpose of preventing intense development such as the (Rancho Del Mar) proposal and intermediate care facilities among other institutions on Prop A lands?” asked the letter.

Jan Fuchs, regional issues subcommittee co-chair, reminded the board members that they will still be able to review the Rancho Del Mar project several times as it continues its application process with the city.

Rancho Del Mar representative Ali Shapouri agreed, noting that they will come before the board as many times as they would like and work out a plan that can be acceptable to the community.

“It is a care facility and it’s needed,” Shapouri said.