Carmel Valley residents weigh in on proposed changes to Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Center

By Karen Billing

“We want a full grocery store” was a common refrain at a recent community meeting about the proposed changes to the Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Center. New owner Coast Income Properties’ plans for a specialty/boutique market and a drug store instead of a full grocery store have some neighbors dissatisfied with the planned mixed-use center on Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley roads, next to Canyon Crest Academy.

Some neighbors said they didn’t mind the missing grocery store and were complimentary of the new proposal’s “Rancho Santa Fe”-style feel and expressed excitement about proposed tenants, the Village’s Main Street and gathering places.

The meeting was well-attended by Coast Income Properties representatives, as well as about 50 neighbors from Airoso, the community on Village Center Loop Road, as well as some residents from Arabella across from the proposed Village Center off Carmel Valley Road.

The PHR Village Center plans were approved by the city in 2010, with 219 residential units and 195,000 square feet of retail, including a movie theater. Coast Income would like to eliminate the movie theater, scale down to 145,000 square feet of retail, and add 110 to 115 more residential units for a total of about 330 residential units, including 86 affordable housing units.

The design and architecture will remain as was originally proposed and buildings will be a mix of one to six stories. The new plans reflect a five-foot height increase over what was approved.

“We’re very excited about it. We love the property and it’s a great, great neighborhood,” said Tom Blake, founder and president of Coast Income Properties.

The altered plans have not been submitted to the city yet for the substantial conformance review process—the developers are first going through the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, the matter will possibly be on the Dec. 12 regional issues subcommittee agenda.

The height increase is one of the changes that hasn’t been embraced by the neighbors present. They like the “openness” of their community, the skyline with views of the mountains and they said six story heights would really change the character of the area.

“We’re hearing (the feedback) on the six stories,” said Blake. “We probably need to address that.”

The other big issue that neighbors seem to have with the changes to the plan is the loss of a full-sized grocery store.

Blake plans to split the 43,000-square-foot building many neighbors had hoped would be a full size grocery store into two buildings. The two buildings (one about 10-15,000 square feet, the other about 15-20,000 square feet) would be a boutique or specialty grocery store and the other would likely be a drug store.

Residents wondered what the benefit was of downsizing the grocery store and pointed out if they had a full-scale grocery store, they wouldn’t need the separate drug store.

One local resident in attendance said that his concern is that if the developers continue to “peel back” on the retail and commercial element, with all the new homes in the area, it’s just going to create a situation where residents of PHR are still going to Del Mar Highlands, Piazza Carmel, Del Mar, Camino Del Sur or Solana Beach to access the goods and services they need.

“The incremental takes creates a less than ideal project,” the man said.

Blake said that of the 45,000-square-foot reduction in retail, 35,000 of it was the movie theater. He said the community had expressed an interest in a specialty market and that he’s really trying to create a village/main street concept by breaking up the large building.

“You can’t do everything all the time,” Blake said. “A drug store and pharmacy is a very high demand for this area.”

“A full grocery store is what we want,” neighbors in opposition reiterated.

Blake shared with the neighbors some of the other changes to the site.

The additional housing units in the Village are being transferred in from approved neighboring “Jelly Bean” and Taylor Morrison housing developments located less than a quarter of a mile from the site.

Coast Income is purchasing the two-acre “Jelly Bean” parcel on Carmel Valley Road, and they will build only eight of those 60 approved units and move the remaining 52 to the Village.

They are also purchasing a neighboring Taylor Morrison development and bringing 57 of their excess units to the Village.

To attract tenants to the Village retail sites, the plan is for the lower floor shop spaces on Main Street to have high ceilings, up from the standard 12 feet to about 20 feet which Blake said creates a nice shopping experience and is a style more tenants are looking for. The top level of the retail area will be more service retail types, such as orthodontists in a 12- to-15-feet high space with a parapet.

Blake said the tenants would be able to have “playful storefronts” that are distinctive and provide identity for the stores.

Buildings have been moved back to create larger sidewalks to promote pedestrian use and more outdoor dining. Blake said they hope to have five to eight restaurants with a mix of fine dining, medium dining and fast-serve. REI, Nordstrom Rack and an upper-end gym have also been named as potential tenant styles they are after.

Blake admires the recent overhaul of University Town Center and hopes to replicate the “almost living room-like” outdoor furniture they have there for people to meet and gather.

The village plaza area will be a large 130-feet wide by 500-feet long space that they also hope will be a comfortable place for people to gather. Blake said they are looking to add a water feature like a 40-foot long fountain with a seating wall or tables on decomposed granite surface and possibly outdoor fireplaces.

Roads in and out of the center frame the plaza area and some residents worried that it won’t be a safe place to gather. Blake said a similar style plaza could be found at Santana Row in San Jose.

Resident Dean Dubey said he likes the new main street, but he misses the “vertically integrated” use — the original plan had housing over retail. He said that the integrated use makes it feel as though the retail is spread out over the whole village, as well as the housing, instead of divided into two areas.

Blake said he appreciated Dubey’s input and explanation.

“This project will not look like two separate projects when you’re looking at it,” Blake said. “Let us show you our renderings and then see if you have the same feelings.”

The Village also includes a green area 100 feet across that goes 500 feet long that the developers are looking for input on. Ideas so far include community gardens, bocce ball courts, a playground, a meandering trail with passive seating spaces, and a terraced lawn with seating walls.

The four-, five- and six-story residential units that edge the park area will be screened with pathways, trees and other landscaping.

Local resident Karen Dubey has created a community survey for members to weigh in with their opinions on the project. It can be found at