Plaza plan gets OK

Council happy with ‘Lifestyles’ center proposal

The Lomas Santa Fe Plaza “Lifestyles” center remodel was unanimously approved 4-0 by the City Council on April 22. Mayor Mike Nichols did not vote on the project because of a conflict of interest with his employer.

“It’s very heartening for me to see an appropriately sized, well-designed and very well-vetted project,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said. “We welcome this development.”

Construction of the $30 million upgrade could begin as early as spring 2010 and take about 16 months. However, that timeline could be delayed.

“We’ll get to the point we’re ready to pull the trigger on construction; whether we pull it or not depends on the economy,” said John Chamberlain, chief executive officer of American Assets, which owns and operates the shopping center.

The expansion will not occur until high-end tenants are certain to fill the new spaces, which is very difficult in the current recession, Chamberlain said.

The remodel will demolish the Big 5 building in between Ross and Vons, and construct 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.

A subterranean parking garage with 325 parking 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.

Several modifications were made between the first project hearing on April 8 and the April 22 hearing, based on community and council input.

The developers added a landscaped walkway between Baskin Robbins and Vons. They also deleted a proposed right turn out of the driveway next to Starbucks and lengthened the right-turn lane at the primary exit onto Lomas Santa Fe.

Plans for reversed angled parking along Las Banderas were scrapped after widespread community opposition. Instead, landscaped medians will be installed to help narrow the road and calm traffic. Parallel parking will remain, and no turns will be blocked by the medians.

“I’ve been against this project since it started ... I do support it today,” resident David Cain said. “You’ve done a tremendous job protecting the citizens.”

All the stakeholders--the community, council, city staff and developers--said they appreciated working together on this project.

“It’s been a long time, but I think we ended up with something really special,” Chamberlain said. “It was worth the wait.”

The project will include Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, including plug-in vehicle charging stations and more bicycle racks. However, American Assets is getting a jump-start by implementing a recycling program for customers and tenants at the Plaza and Solana Beach Towne Centre as soon as possible.