By Karen Billing
Merge 56, a new commercial and housing development located just east of Carmel Valley and bordering the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, is just beginning its environmental review process. A scoping meeting was held on Aug. 6 at the Rancho Penasquitos Library as the city sought public input on the scope and content of the environmental document.
It was not yet the time to discuss the merits of the project and residents requested the city review issues of open space access for both people and wildlife, traffic and safety.
Merge 56 is located at the end of Camino Del Sur just past its intersection with SR-56.
The project is a subset of a larger subdivision project formerly known as Rhodes Crossing, which has already been approved by the city.
Merge 56’s new design will require a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR), a community plan amendment and rezone.
Instead of the approved Rhodes Crossing plan for 273,855 square feet of self storage, 250,000 square feet of commercial and 242 multi-family residences, developer Seabreeze Properties is proposing 525,000 square feet of commercial and office uses and up to 242 residential dwellings.
The residential component would be a mix of housing types, including 111 townhomes, 84-single family units and 47 affordable units.
“It will be more of an urbanist design, to make it more pedestrian-friendly,” said Anna Colamussi-Yentile, spokesperson for Latitude 33 Planning and Engineering.
Colamussi-Yentile said the plan would be to condense office uses and utilize parking structures rather than having a big surface parking lot.
As part of the project, Carmel Mountain Road is proposed to connect with Camino Del Sur — Carmel Mountain Road would be widened to four lanes and extended south to Sundance Avenue, and Camino Del Sur would be widened to a four-to-six-lane road and extend to Dormouse Road.
The other 11 acres on the Rhodes Crossing property are being pursued by Kilroy Realty, although no site plan has been developed yet.
During public comment, Rod Simmons, a member of the San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA), expressed concerns about trails and access to open space in the Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
“The plan calls to fill Deer Canyon, which alarms me,” Simmons said, noting the plan does not include drainage or wildlife undercrossings. “The footprint of the fill is imposing on the boundaries of the preserve and will have some effect on the trail egresses from that side; they would be severed.”
The trail Simmons referenced is one of the much-loved “Tunnel” trails through the preserve, part of the Carmel Mountain/Del Mar Mesa Preserve Resource Management Plan that has been in the works for several years and has endured many delays. Part of that plan includes a trail map (all trails are currently closed to the public) that, as SDMBA member Ben Stone pointed out, includes a connection to Las Penasquitos Canyon.
“It would be difficult to make that trail connection where (the project) sits right now,” Stone said.
Stone said it also is important that the corridor remain open for wildlife such as deer and bobcats.
Gary Levitt, president and founder of Seabreeze Properties, has himself been a strong advocate for trail connectivity through the preserve both as a resident and as a member of the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board.
“The Del Mar Mesa Preserve Resource Management Plan has to allow the connections before we can incorporate these into the project plans,” Levitt said. “The trail connections can be accommodated and incorporated into the street design, but the city and other wildlife agencies need to accept and provide for these trail connections (in the plan) before we will be allowed to incorporate them into our design.”
Besides trail access and wildlife concerns, residents expressed additional quality of life issues during the scoping meeting.
Local resident Brian Eshelman, who lives on Dormouse Road, has long spoken out against the project. His main concerns are due to the traffic impacts on the Park Village Road, which links the community to Black Mountain Road, SR-56 and Mira Mesa. He said even though the footprint of the project is the same, the retail and residential uses will generate more cars than a storage facility would.
“I like the idea of a new center and more employment opportunities for students,” said resident Tammy Wilcox. “But I’ve always felt like Park Village is a disaster waiting to happen in case of a fire emergency.”
Residents also requested the report address pedestrian safety, as the intersection of Camino Del Sur and SR-56 has been a site of some major accidents. Another resident also pointed out concerns about the amount of water that would be required for a new residential and commercial development when the state and city are in a severe drought.
Thom Clark, chair of the Rancho Penasquitos Community Planning Board, said this is just the starting point of the project and the public will have many opportunities to weigh in on the merits of the project. The planning board meets on the first Wednesday of every month at the Doubletree Golf Resort, 14455 Penasquitos Drive. For agendas or information, e-mail email@example.com