Proposed senior complex by Polo Fields near Carmel Valley may have to go to vote

The proposed senior living facility planned for an open Via de la Valle parcel could be subject to approval by a citywide vote per Proposition A.

At a Nov. 5 Carmel Valley Community Planning Board regional issues subcommittee meeting, the developers Milan Capital discussed the beginnings of their plans for the 23.88 acres adjacent to the San Diego Polo Club, known by most as a parking lot for Surf Soccer participants.

Prop A, which passed in 1985, states that any development on agriculturally zoned land is to be very low density housing or equestrian use. Development any more intensive than that must go to a vote for approval.

“These are Prop A lands, there’s no secret about that, and we’re not trying to skirt the Prop A process,” said Chris Nichelson, president of Milan Capital. “We just don’t know yet what that process will mean for us.”

Stakeholders from the San Dieguito River Valley Coalition, San Diego League of Women’s Voters, Friends of San Dieguito River Valley, Sierra Club, San Diegans for Managed Growth and San Dieguito River Park Citizens Advisory Committee have all made it clear that they will work to ensure that maximum protections are given to the open space areas in the river valley and that proper procedures are followed by all agencies.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, Nancy Hand from the League of Women Voters said they worked very hard to get Prop A passed, and while they appreciate the efforts being made by developers Milan Capital to fit into the community, if the project is denser than what is allowed in the zone, it needs to go to a vote of the people.

“We will be watching,” Hand said.

A 1990 ordinance followed Prop A in 1985, prohibiting hospitals, intermediate-care facilities and nursing homes in agriculturally zoned lands.

In 2012, the San Diego Planning Commission weighed in, finding in favor of the developers that a continuing care facility is consistent with an “intermediate care facility,” a use that was allowed in the zone before 1984 and should be allowed without a vote, only a land development code amendment.

At the time, the Carmel Valley planning board strongly disagreed with that finding, as do many of the stakeholder groups now.

The meeting grew heated several times between the developers and the 14 community members present, especially on the topic of the amount of fill that will be required to lift the project out of the floodplain. When it rains, the entire site fills with water.

Some areas are 14 feet below the 100-year floodplain, and residents wanted to know just how much fill was going to be brought in to elevate the project.

Subcommittee co-chair Jan Fuchs said that the fill is a very big concern for the group.

“I assume the desire is to keep the fill as low as possible,” said project architect Greg Irwin of Irwin Partners. “There’s more than one way to keep a project out of a floodplain … there’s options on the table.”

Nichelson said the new project is not the same as the one proposed in the past several years. They are “starting from scratch” and working with the community to come up with a viable plan.

Irwin said since Milan has taken control of the senior facility project this year, they plan to start with the concept of an idea, see where it sits with the community and move forward with the best possible project. They wanted to know what the surrounding residents find to be more intensive use — a bigger footprint or bigger buildings?

Architect Irwin said they were asked to create a project that better matched the surrounding community — low density and larger estate homes that will preserve sightlines and blend into the area.

To reduce the impact on the community, they plan to create a tree-lined frontage and entryway with a two-story independent living facility, a one-story assisted living facility and a one-story memory care unit. Previous plans were denser, with 225 units spread out in casitas; the new plans call for 150 to 160 units.

Bret Bernard, Milan’s director of planning and development, said they are hoping the density and square footage will mix into the community, as they have tucked it back into the small hillside.

The proposed entry to the project is at the traffic signal at northbound El Camino Real.

The western part of the property close to the El Camino Real/Via de la Valle intersection would be left as open space, not to be developed.

Some neighbors questioned whether the open space would make more sense on the eastern side of the property, closest to the homes, leaving the western end with the much more intensive development.

Irwin said they chose to put the development on the eastern end because it will look much less dense.

Neighbor Cory Hao said the proposed project is not much different from the previous plan because it is still urban in character and scale and is still a use that is not permitted for this site.

“The land needs to feel like open space and feel like a relief from urbanization,” said subcommittee co-chair Anne Harvey. “You should still get the feeling of relief when you pass that property.”

Residents asked whether different uses, such as equestrian uses, had been considered for the site.

Bernard said they did look at equestrian use on the site, but it would still require about four to five buildings and amounted to about the same amount of density as is being proposed.

“We feel that the (senior facility) use is needed in the community and is a complement to what’s already there,” Bernard said. “We think this is a good use for the community.”