Grading to start on new Torrey Hills housing units in Carmel Valley

By Karen Billing

Grading is expected to begin soon on 384 new housing units on Calle Mar de Mariposa and East Ocean Air Drive in Torrey Hills. Developer Garden Communities purchased the lots with the intention of carrying out the already approved and somewhat controversial plans for the property.

There was a lot of resident contention when the project was reviewed and eventually rejected by the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board in 2008. Despite the group’s rejection, the project was supported by then District 1 Councilman Scott Peters and approved by City Council. What Garden Communities will build is the same project that was approved without any changes.

“We don’t want to upset the apple cart,” said project engineer John Leppert. “You may not like the apple cart that’s already been approved but that’s what we’re building.”

Leppert was at the Torrey Hills planning board meeting to introduce himself and project members and open up the dialogue between the developers and the community.

Planning board chair Kathryn Burton complimented the team on being “ very courteous and upfront,” however, there was still a tension with homeowners present at the meeting who had concerns about dirt and noise of construction, as well as the project as a whole.

“You have to know that the community is in general not happy about this project,” said one resident, worried about his kids walking to Torrey Hills School with all the added traffic coming out of the project on the corner.

Despite his frustration, the resident said he appreciated Leppert’s efforts to be upfront and said that he just wanted to see the project get built and over with.

As a first bit of compromise, the board selected the color of the wooden sound wall fence that will be installed this weekend. The developers had planned to have it painted blue, but board and audience members voted for it to be painted tan.

The fence will be up throughout the construction process. Leppert said it could be a long one, as they first have to go underground to build the two levels of subterranean parking.

“Excavation will be the first phase, about three to four months,” Leppert said, noting it could be another six to nine months before they “go vertical” after constructing the garage, which will serve as a platform for the units.

They expect to start construction on the first units by the beginning of 2013.

The development is entitled as condos but will be operated long-term as apartments. The buildings will be about 48 feet tall at their highest, about 10 feet taller than the Archstone Apartments across the street. There will also be 4,000 square foot of retail (likely four “neighborhood service” tenants yet to be determined like a coffee shop or dry cleaners) a small park area.

Garden Communities has similar projects in San Diego, such as the La Jolla Crossroads in University City and Legacy in Mira Mesa.

“We’re very fortunate that this is the group that purchased in this community,” said board member Gary Levitt. “They do a very good job.”

One big concern of the planning board is the trees on the lots. Member Brad Fagan said there are about 55 pine trees, 10 of them Torrey Pines, along the western slope and up to the southern corner of the project.

“We’re very interested in retaining those trees in any way possible,” Fagan said.

They are working on transporting the trees during the grading process although Leppert said that they’ve had a low success rate in the past with mature trees being transplanted. He said they would make a “Herculean effort” to help those trees survive.

“The trees are very valuable, they’re a beautiful asset to the community and the Maintenance Assessment District pays for them,” chair Kathryn Burton said. “If you take them out and don’t replace them with trees of comparable value and beauty, it’s a very big loss to the community as a whole.”

Leppert said they plan to continue to keep the board updated as the project progresses. Any questions regarding the project can be directed to project manager Dee Snow, (858) 200-2244 or project supervisor Rod Fink at (619) 572-1114.