MERGE project as planned is not community building

[Recently], I attended a presentation by Gary Levitt, the developer of the MERGE project planned for the corner of Carmel Mountain Road and Carmel Country Road.

It seems to me that neither the original plan for 28,000 square feet of retail/commercial space nor Mr. Levitt’s plan are currently relevant or in keeping with the character of the community. The original plan was conceived when this entire area was dirt, of course, and the idea that a plan conceived a decade ago might still be “approved” is ludicrous. Communities grow and change in an organic manner and the city and local planning board should immediately revoke the approval and the use of the land should be re-examined. And Mr. Levitt’s plan presents raises plenty of issues that can be taken into consideration:

  1. Character of the community. No one wants another strip mall or large shopping center in the middle of this fully residential area. Small, service-based businesses and eateries designed to meet the needs of the immediately surrounding community are what’s needed. Certainly no one living in this area is seeking a “destination” shopping center that will bring traffic and visitors from other areas of San Diego to our community.

2. Safety. Traffic and congestion are already an issue in the condo development abutting the area. Any development in this area must have traffic entrances and exits that don’t create further congestion. Further, the walkways into and out of the development should be designed to promote safety by using walls and other landscape structures to impede bike-riding, skateboarding, etc., through the area and also to ensure no routes exist for children to exit directly onto the busy streets surrounding. The current plan celebrates open access from the sidewalks bordering the structures but, as a parent, I see only a wide-open “runway” for children to end up on a street where speeds regularly exceed 50 mph.

  1. Security and privacy. The proposed design includes patios and roof decks that would create sightlines directly into the neighboring homes. The proposed underground parking garage (a true anomaly in this area) could easily present issues with security and create opportunities for crime.
  2. Longevity. Various retailers have struggled and failed in larger shopping areas in our community. To me, this indicates the developers are out of touch with the needs of the community and bringing in the wrong sort of retailers. Do we want a new development that will merely be empty storefronts a few years down the road? Of course not. So we need a development plan that truly asks what the community needs and recruit and provide that.

Unfortunately, I did not have the impression from the presentation that any thought has been put into the question of what the community wants and needs. Instead, I got the impression that the developer is interested in squeezing as much into this acreage as the planning board and city will allow, disregarding the concerns of the immediate neighbors and the community as a whole. And if the community doesn’t get on board, then Mr. Levitt will apparently just go through with his oft-repeated threat of building the “already approved” shopping center, thereby ensuring that no one is happy.
That is not community building. That is community destruction. I hope that the city and planning board will step in and provide much needed support of the community’s needs and wants in this matter.

Andrew Zack