Expansion upsets neighbors

About 80,000 square feet of new office and retail buildings in the works for El Camino Real are stirring up frustration among neighbors. American Assets’ Torrey Reserve includes projects on both sides of the street at the entrance to the Torrey Hills community, just before Arroyo Sorrento Road.

Neighbors said they bought into the area based on a specific community plan but to their dismay, the office complex seems to be “mushrooming.” A day care facility that was supposed to just serve employees became open to the public and a complex that neighbors were told was at its max may be expanded.

Neighbors Bill Schwenker and Steve Thomas built their houses on the hill after being promised their views to the ocean would be preserved but now they find themselves looking down on an increasing number of mechanical units on building tops.

“Do community plans have no legal value whatsoever?” Schwenker said. “Are they just documents of deception?”

The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board will take another look at the building plans on Feb. 17 at Torrey Hills School at 6:30 p.m.

Five new buildings

On the west side of El Camino Real, near Ruth Chris’ Steak House and the California Bank & Trust, American Assets plans to build two mixed-use office and commercial buildings that will be 20,000 square feet and 35 feet high.

On the east side, they plan to build three new buildings: A one story, 22 foot tall, 4,600 square foot building closest to Arroyo Sorrento; a two story, 28 foot tall, 20,800 square foot building along the project frontage; and a two story, 1,300 square foot building near the existing Bright Horizons day care facility.

In total, the projects would add 80,000 square feet, bringing the total of both sides of Torrey Reserve to more than 500,000 square feet.

Lesley Henegar, from the city planning department, said that the project is still smaller than what is allowed in square footage according to the 1997 community plan.

The representative said that they are also under their Average Daily Trip (ADT) limit.

But Paula Abney, of the Torrey Hills Coalition, disagreed with the city’s calculations.

“This particular developer is way over what he’s allowed,” Abney said.

Lessons learned

The board is still stinging from the results of their last big project, Coast Income Properties’ condo project on East Ocean Air Drive. Despite the board’s protests about the project’s density and the ADTs it would generate, the San Diego City Council still approved it last year.

Currently, the Torrey Hills Coalition is suing the city of San Diego over the project.

Board member Alan Bradshaw is trying to take a different approach, noting he learned a lot with the Coast Income deal.

“If the city says it’s in conformance, it’s a moot point,” he said of the ADT and square footage debate.

He said something he learned from Coast Income was that instead of just saying “no” to a project, they should look at ways to get it to a “yes.”

“The deal we could’ve negotiated instead would still be better than the deal we ended up with,” Bradshaw said.

In that light, the board asked the developer to come back in February with some justification for why the one story building on the east side will be nearly as tall as a two story building.

They also asked the developer to consider adding parking, lighting and a landscape plan that could help provide a buffer between the project and nearby homes.


  • Torrey Hills Community Planning Board meeting
  • Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m.
  • Torrey Hills School