Carmel Valley planning board votes against Via de la Valle widening project

By Karen Billing

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board decided to take a stand against the Via de la Valle widening, voting 9-2 against the project as proposed at its Sept. 26 meeting.

The widening of Via de la Valle from two to four lanes from San Andres to El Camino Real is a project about 10 years in the making.

“I’m going to support the motion even though I was part of the task force that championed that road,” said Frisco White, planning board chair.

White said he had never been in favor of a four-lane road, but worked with the task force years ago to get the road as narrow as possible through the sensitive riverpark area. In light of the concerns expressed by Del Mar Horsepark users and businesses adjacent to the road, he decided to support the motion to recommend rejection of the project as it stands.

The planning board’s vote is advisory and the project is next expected to go before the city planning commission by November or December. Proponents and opponents of the widening will have the opportunity to have their voices heard at the commission level. Should it be approved, the road would be about two years away from the beginning of construction, with a year tagged for Coastal Commission approvals and a year on engineering.

The Sept. 26 motion was met with applause from a number of horsepark supporters in the audience.

The sole dissenting votes on the board were by members Manjeet Ranu and Steven Ross.

“To try and redesign it again, I think it would be somewhat disingenuous to the process,” Ranu said. “It has been a substantial process. [Developer] Black Mountain Ranch [LLC] and the city have been responsive and I’m not sure anymore analysis paralysis is going to get us results.”

While she voted in favor of denying the widening, board member Anne Harvey agreed that the developer, city and neighbors have a very long history on this project.

“These guys have tried so hard to please us, for us to say now ‘Nah we don’t like it’ sets a bad precedent,” Harvey said.

White said although it is true that they have spent a lot of time on the project, the issues with the horsepark are only coming to the forefront now. The developers had been working with the landowners — the 22nd District Agricultural Association — but they hadn’t worked with the trainers who lease and work at the park.

The Carmel Valley planning board last saw the widening project at its Aug. 22 meeting, but with a quorum of only nine of the group’s 16 members present, the planning board could not get a passing motion.

The project has been in the works since 2003, and was initially submitted to the city in 2005. Dale Greenhalgh, of developer Black Mountain Ranch LLC, said he has been before the Carmel Valley board five times over the last 10 years.

Carmel Valley resident Jan Fuchs, who was on the original task force, said they asked several times why the widening was necessary as the road doesn’t go anywhere to the east, stopping after the El Camino Real interchange and continuing as two lanes into Rancho Santa Fe.

As Greenhalgh said, the road serves a regional purpose, which is part of the reason why Black Mountain Ranch is contributing funds toward its construction.

The existing two-lane road is built for a maximum of 10,000 average daily trips (ADT), but the current volume is almost double that at 17,000 ADTs, according to city traffic engineer Farah Mahzari at last month’s meeting. They are projecting 27,000 ADTs by 2030 and a four-lane road has a capacity for 30,000 so they are hoping that the widened Via de la Valle will be able to carry that capacity to and from the I-5 freeway.

If the widening had to be done, Fuchs said the task force worked to ensure that it would be as narrow as possible through that “rural” area.

“It was going to be double the size,” Fuchs said. “Given the choice, we felt good that we changed the whole nature of the road the city was going to build. In terms of sheer size, that was a victory.”

As planned, the road will be widened to 60 feet, smaller than the city standard of 84 feet, from curb to curb. There will also be a four-foot-wide median and a new six-foot-wide bike lane on both sides of the road.

The majority of the road will be widened on the south side due to the steep bluffs on the north side. On the south side there will also be a decomposed granite walking path in the parkway, a 10-foot area behind the curb, adjacent to the bike lane.

There will also be a new signal with the widening at Via del Canon.

At the Aug. 22 meeting, the board advised Greenhalgh to involve horsepark representatives in the process. Since that time, Greenhalgh has met with 14 trainers.

“They were clearly concerned with how it will impact their business and they were concerned as horses are more sensitive to traffic than people,” Greenhalgh said.

Each of the trainers has an area that they work in and each wanted a wall between the park and the road, however, Greenhalgh said the Coastal Commission has issues with the walls because it is concerned with vistas and driving views.

A lot of the comments from horsepark trainers were also about events and maintaining access during the construction period, Greenhalgh said. He said there are ways to do that with blackout dates with contractors.

“There are events constantly,” said resident Ken Farinsky, whose children use the horsepark. “To try and work around them will be next to impossible.”

Board member Christian Clews had been the strongest advocate for the horsepark and Via de la Valle-adjacent businesses Mary’s Tack and Feed and All Creatures Animal Hospital, and how they would be negatively affected by a widening that he felt is not needed.

“(The traffic) is not that big of a problem,” Clews said. “Don’t endanger our safety, our livelihood and our lifestyle.”

Clews said the horses were there first, urbanization happened and it has already been encroached upon. He pointed out that horses are sight and sound animals, and that people of all different skill sets are riding in the horsepark — he said having the road closer to the riding arena — having semi trucks going right by — would not be a good plan.

Ross said the word “encroachment” might not be accurate and asked how much land is actually being taken from the horsepark or businesses. Greenhalgh said at maximum, up to 40 feet of land will be taken, but all the work will be done in the right of way. However, as a result, the buildings and horsepark facilities will be much closer to the road.