Torrey Hills board reluctant to approve funding for new rec center

A resident walks her dogs on a four-acre parcel at Torrey Hills Neighborhood Park that is slated for a planned recreation center.
A resident walks her dogs on a four-acre parcel at Torrey Hills Neighborhood Park that is slated for a planned recreation center.
(Karen Billing)

The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board was hesitant to approve a city request to use community funds to plan a recreation center on four vacant acres at Torrey Hills Neighborhood Park. At its Jan. 20 meeting, the board heard about San Diego’s plans to tap into $2.5 million of community money, but members said they are still stinging from a years-long struggle with the city to get an enhancement project done on a 200-foot easement under the power lines on East Ocean Air Drive.

Late last year, they were able to secure a plant restoration on the property for $60,000 that for years had been pitched by the city to cost $450,000.

Rather than commit to the funds for the recreation center, the board voted to establish a subcommittee to work with the city, the parks and recreation committee and community members to figure out what all the options are. Board member Guy Ravad said that will allow them to make a decision from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

Howard Greenstein, park designer from the city of San Diego’s planning department, said they have identified funding sources that they would like to use for the project, including $1 million from a past developer contribution earmarked for a Torrey Hills recreation center, $1.1 million from the Torrey Reserve Gateway Development Funds, and $454,000 from a Torrey Hills Development Agreement fund.

The Torrey Reserve Gateway funds can only be used for park projects within Torrey Hills; the developer agreement fund has fewer restrictions. It can be used for any public facility, but must be within Torrey Hills.

The city’s proposed recreation center is a “modest” 2,000-square-foot center that could provide office space, a large and small multipurpose room, restroom and storage. The anticipated cost is about $4.1 million, and the city hopes to have a final design in place by 2016.

Greenstein said the $2.5 million is a “good start” for the project and will go as far as preparation of the general development plan and construction documents. Grants or other funding sources would help complete the project.

Back in 2002, plans were approved for the YMCA of Encinitas to build a recreation center at the park, complete with a swimming pool. In 2007, the plans were canceled as the funds could not be raised.

Greenstein said public input would determine what other amenities the community would like to see in the park, outside of the recreation center building. The plan would probably go before the Ocean Air Recreation Council for approval, not the planning board.

The board was also uneasy about relinquishing control of the community’s money to a Carmel Valley board.

Board member Brad Fagan informed Greenstein of the “really bad experience” they had with the greenbelt enhancement project.

“Our issue is, the city used our money and didn’t do what they should’ve done with the cost breakdown,” Fagan said. “By the time we were able to review the costs, it was way over what anyone expected … I think it gives a lot of us here a cause to question what’s happening.”

As Torrey Hills Community Planning Board Chairwoman Kathryn Burton said, the money was “sucked up” by consultant fees and nothing was left for the project.

“We’re nervous about committing to money that isn’t even there yet, and with such a skin-and-bones idea,” Burton said.

Fagan requested Greenstein return to the board with a more complete budget.

Greenstein said his department’s job is long-range planning, working at a higher level, so he isn’t sure how much more detail he will be able to provide.

He said the city has generic costs, per-acre costs for park development, per-square-foot costs for recreation centers, and soft costs for city project management and consultant fees. He said from the planning department, the plan goes to the public works department, which hires a consultant to prepare the design cost estimate from the general development plan.

Resident Anhtu Nguyen said he is in favor of a recreation center, but didn’t understand why they had to spend money to get a consultant to spend money. He wondered how much of the money would be spent until they came up with a reasonable plan.

“It makes no sense,” he said of the process.

The board is also concerned about the potential access for the recreation center.

“The biggest issue is the road up to the site,” said resident Paula Abney of the fire lane from Carmel Mountain Road.

Abney said in the past, when they went through the YMCA proposal, they were told it would take $1.5 million just to build a road that also goes over a SDG&E easement.

Abney said some neighbors do not want to see that road opened up because of the traffic.

Chairwoman Kathryn Burton said neighbors also do not want to see the building accessed by Via Mar de Delfinas, which is already over capacity.

“We’ve got a big problem any way you cut it,” Burton said.

Board member Peter Gilchrist was selected to lead the recreation center subcommittee. Gilchrist said that he thinks the center will ultimately be a good thing for the community, and they have a great opportunity to make something out of a property that has long sat dormant.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who’d like to see something done there and have some ideas,” Gilchrist said.


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