Carmel Valley Planning Board approves revised plans for Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Center

By Karen Billing

Developers Coast Income Properties is anxious to get moving on the Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Center after its revised plans were unanimously approved by the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board at a special meeting on Feb. 17.

“The number one thing I hear from residents is they want a village center tomorrow or yesterday, they want it done,” said Manjeet Ranu, the PHR representative on the planning board. “This project is more pedestrian-oriented, they’ve responded to the comments of the community, it’s beautiful and better than what was approved…Let’s get this project moving forward.”

Ranu made the motion to recommend approval of the project and encourage the city to issue permits “as expeditiously as possible.”

“We want the community of PHR to have this center,” Chair Frisco White said. “The village center is a catalyst for PHR to become a community able to support themselves.”

Tom Blake, founder and president of Coast Income, said they are very excited about the project and pleased with how the design has turned out.

Once going through the city approval process, which they plan to begin right away, it is the hope they would begin construction in December 2013, with tenants opening their doors by the first or second quarter of 2015.

Changes in the PHR Village plan from the 2010-approved project include the elimination of the movie theater, a specialty market and drug store instead of a full-service grocery store and an enhanced open space area. In response to community and planning board concerns about six-story residential buildings, the developers have lowered the heights to five stories.

The site will feature 155,000 square feet of retail with a mix of shops and restaurants that create “energy and excitement,” a unique plaza gathering space, wide sidewalks and 325 residential units.

There will also be a large green area that will have community gardens, a bocce ball court, a playground, a meandering trail with passive seating spaces, a terraced lawn with seating walls and a private dog park for residents.

A temporary public dog park is being considered for the area of the site reserved for a future city library. The city has yet to purchase the land.

Village Center Loop Road, which currently dead-ends, will in the future loop out to Carmel Valley Road in line with Zinnia Hills Place.

The biggest issue of contention was the grocery store element, which Ranu said the board went into a bit of “analysis paralysis” debating full size versus specialty market.

Board member Victor Manoushakian said the smaller store would not support the community at large and could create “a havoc on the roads” by sending PHR residents to Carmel Valley.

“People have to eat and that’s the most important thing,” said board member Hollie Kahn. “Our grocery stores (in Carmel Valley) have been impacted for 17 years and specialty stores don’t cut it.”

Blake said people’s shopping habits are changing and people increasingly shop for groceries at places like Costco or Target, with side trips to specialty stores. Due to those changes, he’s concerned about a large market like Vons or Ralphs as the anchor store 10 to 15 years in the future; he wants to ensure he’s creating a viable center.

Despite several board members’ opinions, an informal survey done by PHR resident Karen Dubey reflected that of the 70 people surveyed, 83 percent said they wanted a specialty grocery store.

One resident in attendance said she was excited about the specialty market because in her mind the large grocery stores are interchangeable—this one would offer something unique.

“To belabor the grocery store point is detrimental to the future of the project,” Ranu said. “We have an opportunity to get this beautiful village center done…The idea that traffic from Pacific Highlands Ranch will overwhelm Carmel Valley is unfounded.”

Blake said the specialty market will be “more than just a Trader Joe’s” and can be a full-service type store. He mentioned, as an example, The Fresh Market, an East Coast concept that has started to come west with one store in Roseville outside Sacramento and leases signed in Santa Barbara, Palo Alto and Laguna Hills.

Blake said he has had discussions with one such market that expressed interest in the site and if the store came to the center, his company would have the to option to boost the market up to 25,000 square feet and make the drug store a little smaller.

The board also placed conditions on the project’s gathering plaza, an area planned to have tables, lounging furniture and water features. The board had some safety concerns about the plaza being located in the center of a one-way loop road that accesses the parking garage.

Dubey expressed worries that because of the zero curbs of the plaza, children might not know they were stepping into a road.

Blake said there will be a raised edge with a wall surrounding the plaza so it will be marked where the plaza ends and the road begins.

Dubey said she also felt the five-story building heights, although lowered from six, was still too high for the community.