City seeks refinement of plans for Del Mar Highlands expansion

By Karen Billing

The Del Mar Highlands Town Center’s plans for expansion, which include a new parking garage, continue to move through the city’s review process.

The center is undergoing a substantial conformance review to determine whether its proposed project is consistent with a previously approved permit. Since the 1980s, Del Mar Highlands has been approved and entitled to a total of 425,000 square feet of retail, but only 283,000 square feet have been built so far. This new expansion includes the garage, new theaters at Cinepolis, a new KinderCare location and 80,000 square feet of new retail spaces, which may include a larger Jimbo’s.

After all the enhancements, the center will still have 62,000 square feet of entitlements to consider in the future.

Del Mar Highlands received its first cycle of comments from the substantial conformance review on Aug. 13, determining that the project is “not consistent” with the approved permit. Elizabeth Schreiber, vice president and general manager of Donahue Schriber, said that this is the way the system works, that they expected the city to kick the project back to them as “denied” with requests for clarification.

“The process goes back and forth three of four times … We’ll go back and polish it up and turn it back in,” Schreiber said. “It’s a long process, but it’s a good one. We are confident that what we have designed is within our existing entitlements.”

The city’s first cycle of comments asked for refinements on elevations of the 800-space garage and more landscaping details. The comments also noted that Del Mar Highlands’ original permit required a transit center.

Schreiber said that the Highlands did have a transit center, a series of bus bays over by KinderCare.

“In 2011, after 18 to 20 years of no bus service in Carmel Valley, we went to the city to ask if we could convert the bays to parking stalls,” Schreiber said.

They were able to pick up 96 more parking stalls in the large area occupied by the bus bays. Schreiber said if Carmel Valley ever obtains bus service, they would reinstate the transit center.

Schreiber said that they aim to start construction on the parking garage, theater expansion and new KinderCare in January 2015, with the goal to be finished by November 2015.

Once that phase is complete, the center will begin the next phase of renovations, which includes the new retail spaces.