Solana Beach residents express concerns over potential development of land across from Fletcher Cove Park

By Kristina Houck

The site where the Melmo building and the distillery lot currently sit could be developed, but residents want more places to park across from Fletcher Cove Park.

Developers discussed the possibility of redeveloping the space between South Sierra and South Acacia avenues during a public workshop May 29.

Lomas Santa Fe Group, which owns the land that holds the Melmo building, and BBL Commercial Real Estate proposed a public-private partnership to redevelop the area. The proposal includes the city-owned distillery lot, which features 87 spaces used for public parking.

“Our building right now is not benefiting anybody in the condition it’s in. It’s old. It’s tired,” said Steve Bollert, a partner and chief investment officer of BBL Commercial Real Estate. “The fact that our two properties are tied together gives us a terrific opportunity to not just redevelop that small Lomas Santa Fe site, but to make a project that’s much bigger and can benefit the community as a whole and play right into the revitalization that’s already going on today. We think that we’re going to create a project that will benefit everyone, add to the community, add to the value of the property and, mostly, add to the quality of life for the citizens of Solana Beach.”

Architects from the Hanna Gabriel Wells firm presented three different mixed-use concepts, ranging from retail and office space, to a boutique hotel, to residential space. All potential projects featured multiple levels and would likely entail demolishing the buildings that are currently on the sites.

The concepts also featured underground parking that would at least match the current number of parking spaces available to the public today, the architects explained.

About half of the lot in front of the Melmo building is leased from the city, an agreement that expires in 2022. The lot offers 57 spaces and is open for public parking after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. These spaces are available in addition to those at the distillery lot.

Nevertheless, many of the more than 30 attendees argued that Solana Beach needs even more parking.

The city originally purchased the distillery lot to provide parking for park and beach visitors.

“I think anything you do has to increase the amount of parking,” said resident Gerri Retman-Opper. “We all expect the existing parking to stay, but I think you have to increase the parking substantially.”

Although parking was the main concern, other concerns included traffic congestion and the character of the project.

“Anybody who lives down here knows Sierra is like a freeway,” said resident Kelly Harless. “Now you’re talking about bringing in more traffic.”

With the development of Cedros Avenue and Highway 101, and a proposed mixed-use development at Dahlia Drive and Sierra Avenue, resident Cheryl Burns questioned whether another project at the Melmo building and distillery lots would be successful.

“What makes you feel that this area can, in a healthy way, sustain this?” Burns asked. “This is a small community. It blossoms in the summer; however, it’s a small community. It’s now diffusing those hubs over a very small area.”

Other residents agreed, noting empty office and retail spaces in the community.

“On Cedros Avenue, there’s sections we’re trying to get people to go to because there’s dead areas,” added Cindy Cruz, who owns Leaping Lotus, a 21,000-square-foot store featuring more than 120 merchants at 240 South Cedros Ave. She also serves as president of the Cedros Avenue Merchant’s Association.

The project could take up to two years to plan, said Jim Gabriel, of Hanna Gabriel Wells. The City Council will need to approve any projects.

“Right now, it could just be two standalone projects and that’s OK. But there’s also this opportunity in which maybe there’s something better that could come from working together,” Gabriel said. “That’s really what this evening was for … to see if there is a project that could truly benefit the community and really be a successful addition to this wonderful place here.”