Plan to expand Solana Beach shopping center progresses

The $30 million upgrade of the Lomas Santa Fe Plaza shopping center is moving through the city permitting process and a final decision could come as soon as next Wednesday.

The City Council reviewed the project at its regular meeting April 8, but continued the public hearing to its next meeting on April 22 to give residents--who might have been out of town for spring break or observing Passover--an opportunity to voice their opinions about the significant project.

Staff recommended approval of the proposed project, which meets city and environmental codes and mitigates traffic impacts. The council saved their discussion of the project for the April 22 meeting.

The shopping center remodel includes demolishing the Big 5 building between Ross and Vons, and constructing 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in its place. A sweeping entry plaza will complement the two-story shopping area, which will retain its Mediterranean architectural style.

Two restaurants and about six retailers will be added to the current tenants, who will all remain including Big 5 and Pizza Nova. No specific tenants have signed on yet, but the upgrade to a “Lifestyles” center means property owner American Assets will likely seek high-end businesses.

A subterranean parking garage with 325 spaces will be constructed to replace the lost spaces behind Vons and meet the parking requirements for the new businesses. This means the shopping center will expand by a total of 45,500 square feet.

A handful of residents raised concerns about traffic increasing along Las Banderas and San Andres, the streets bordering the back of the center, because the parking garage entrance will be accessed from San Andres.

They also were concerned about a plan for reverse angle parking along those streets, which was initiated by the city to narrow the street and thus cause traffic to slow down. After hearing community concerns, the city switched the proposed parking from the east side of Las Banderas to the west side. Still, some residents were skeptical about the proposal’s benefits.

“It’s going to really hurt property values,” said Judith Bradley, president of the Country Club Villas homeowners association. She also added car headlights could possibly shine into their living room windows, which face the center.

Other residents requested that sufficient recycling receptacles for businesses be included as well as a permanent community meeting room. But American Assets CEO John Chamberlain said he could not commit to the expense of a permanent space.

Some residents questioned how well the city notified the community about project hearing in advance.

The city completed the mandatory 300-foot radius notification, placed newspaper ads, sent out e-mail alerts and had information posted on the city’s Web site and outside city hall.

However, considering the size of the project, the council asked city staff to send out postcards to all residents alerting them of the April 22 meeting.