Committee debates parking issues for planned Carmel Valley park

By Karen Billing

As the design for the new Gonzales Canyon Neighborhood Park in Pacific Highlands Ranch takes shape, some members of the park design committee are advocating for more park, less parking.

Some plans for a parking lot for the park included 28 to 31 spaces with a cul-de-sac turn-around. But with only 5 acres to use, and in a community built with the intention of “de-emphasizing the car,” some committee members were hesitant to cut into the park to provide spaces.

Committee member Manjeet Ranu said for day use, people could use street parking along Pacific Highlands Ranch Parkway and when school is not in session, people would be able to utilize the 83 spaces at the future neighboring Solana Ranch School’s parking lot.

“Putting a parking lot within the park duplicates parking at the school, which is wasteful,” Ranu said.

Another committee member, Michelle Strauss, said that at least some parking, maybe a 10-space lot, would be helpful.

“We want to emphasize walkability but we have to be realistic,” said Strauss. “There has to be something.”

She said she worries that without a parking lot, cars may inundate the surrounding neighborhood.

The ad-hoc committee members of the Carmel Valley Recreation Board will seek further community input on parking as they develop their plan. They plan to meet again on April 16 (location to be determined) before submitting a final tentative design to the board in May.

The committee looked at three tentative design plans from Schmidt Design group and gave feedback to the designers to merge details they liked in two of the plans. The park elements they want to include are tot lots, picnic areas, a restroom, basketball courts, exercise stations, natural play areas, and about 2 acres of multi-use turf for recreational play. The turf space likely won’t be big enough for competitive sports leagues, but could be used for practices and younger recreation leagues. Solana Ranch will also have sports fields.

Members liked the idea of a strong, tree-lined promenade through the park but encouraged the design group to incorporate a loop as it will be more useful for adults to exercise, for walking with strollers or children riding bikes.

An amphitheatre element for staging movie nights or concerts received mixed reviews.

“I like it, but I question how much use it would get,” said Strauss said.

The committee agreed they wanted the amphitheater space to be more flexible so it could be used for a variety of activities, as well as function as an amphitheater when needed.

Community members present said they weren’t as concerned with the size and shape of the green space being able to accommodate games. However, Ken Farinksy and Marilee Pacelli, members of the Carmel Valley Recreation Board, urged the committee to consider a design that has the most open green space as possible.

Pacelli, a member of the recreation board since 1998, has gone through several park design processes and said people always say providing space for sports games and practices is not a priority—until it is.

“They always say ‘Why didn’t we think about this when we planned this park?’” Pacelli said. “Carmel Valley is already turning away leagues because there’s a lack of field space. Our sports leagues cannot grow because there are no new parks online and there’s no room for new groups to come in… You need an open space where kids can play.”

Pacelli said that the open green space shouldn’t have paths going through it because it limits the use.

The committee requested the designers expand the turf area where possible.