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One Paseo Project In Carmel Valley Gets Its Public Hearing Monday

Reported by Katie Schoolov

The San Diego City Council will vote next week on the most controversial development proposal currently on its agenda: One Paseo in Carmel Valley. KPBS North County Editor Alison St John says One Paseo illustrates a conundrum about San Diego’s growth.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Kilroy Realty

An artist's rendering shows One Paseo West Plaza, part of a proposed development in Carmel Valley, February 2015.

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KPBS North County Editor Alison St John says One Paseo illustrates a conundrum about San Diego’s growth.

It’s easy to see why the site for the $650 million One Paseo project is a developer’s dream: It’s an empty 23-acre field on Del Mar Heights Road, less than one mile east of Interstate 5 in affluent Carmel Valley.

If you look at artists’ renderings of what the project could become, you see broad boulevards with people out enjoying a pedestrian-friendly main street, with shops, a park and plenty of room for cyclists and outdoor cafes. The plan includes more than 700,000 square feet of retail and office space and 600 homes.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

One Paseo developer John Kilroy is pictured at the site for the proposed project, Jan. 15, 2015.

Developer John Kilroy has specialized in building high-end office space up and down the West Coast for the growing high-tech industry, but he said he's designed One Paseo as a mixed-use development because that’s what the community requested.

“After six years now, and tens of millions of dollars going through the process, we think that we’ve arrived at a terrific plan that’s going to be terrific for everybody,” Kilroy said.

Not everyone agrees, and that no doubt will be made clear Monday when the San Diego City Council holds a public hearing on the project.

The Opposition

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Ken Farinsky, spokesman for What Price Main Street?, is pictured, Jan. 15, 2015.

Ken Farinsky said he was one of the first community members Kilroy approached with the idea of a mixed-use project.

“We were like, ‘Yes! The community would love a mixed-use project on this site.' I was one of the original proponents for One Paseo," Farinsky said.

But when he began to realize the scope of the project, he became one of the most vocal opponents as a spokesman for the opposition group, What Price Main Street?

“The main objection to this site is traffic,” Farinsky said. “They are generating 23,000 trips a day, which requires them to widen streets, to divert traffic by neighborhoods, by elementary schools. Kids will have to walk across nine lanes of traffic.”

He said a planned expansion of lanes on I-5 won’t happen until many of the children in elementary school have graduated, so the intersection at Del Mar Heights Road, which is already gridlocked when parents pick up kids, will only get worse.

“Kilroy is talking about building a shopping mall, a regional facility that attracts people from 10 miles away. So is attracting people from 10 miles away where you’re increasing traffic, is that smart growth?” Farinsky said.

One Paseo is car centric, and Kilroy acknowledges that. The developer said he is spending more than $6 million on traffic signals and improvements to intersections.

“Forty intersections in the greater Carmel Valley area, and then we’re doing about $3.8 million beyond that at our own election,” Kilroy said. “What this will have is the most modern traffic signal system in the country."

Kilroy said that with the investments he’s making in traffic-calming techniques, driving around Del Mar Heights will actually get easier rather than worse.

A Conundrum

A conundrum for Carmel Valley is how to build more density without making traffic worse when there is so little public transit to serve the area. Mike Stepner, a former city of San Diego architect and planner, said buses and trains are not financially sustainable except in more densely populated cities.

“It’s always a chicken and egg thing,” Stepner said. “In the olden days, 100 years ago, you built the transit first and then development came."

Now, it’s the other way around, he said. You have to increase the density before public transit is sustainable.

Photo credit: Kilroy Realty Corporation

An architectural drawing gives a bird's eye view of the proposed $650 million One Paseo project site on Del Mar Heights Road in Carmel Valley.

Stepner started off skeptical of the One Paseo project, but then Kilroy engaged him as a consultant to help make the development more community friendly.

Now, Stepner points to changes the developer has made in the design, with pedestrian-friendly boulevards, bike lanes and more usable public spaces. He looks at the development in the context of the region’s overall need to handle a growing population.

“We are short in this region 330,000 housing units that we’re going to need over the next 25, 30 years,” Stepner said. “They’re proposing 600 units, which is a drop in the bucket, but it creates housing. It creates critical mass — and then if you have enough, it will bring transit.”

Kilroy also is planning to introduce a shuttle bus to the nearest Coaster station in Sorrento Valley.

Reaction From Neighboring Del Mar

But Del Mar City Councilman Don Mosier, who sits on the board of the San Diego Association of Governments, the county’s regional planning agency, said he’s seen no plans to bring more public transit to the area.

“I’ve seen the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, and I don’t see any proposed solution for this area that will improve transit access,” Mosier said.

The Del Mar City Council has voted to oppose One Paseo, which sits just within the northern border of the city of San Diego.

“Frankly, when I hear the developer call this smart growth, this is the opposite of smart growth,” Mosier said. “It doesn’t conform to the community plan, and it has major negative impacts on the surrounding communities.“

Carmel Valley’s Community Plan for this area, created in the 1970s, allows for one-third of the office space in the One Paseo proposal.

How The Project Has Changed

Kilroy said he’s modified the plan as much as he can, most recently in response to objections from the San Diego Planning Commission last fall.

Photo credit: Kilroy Realty

An artist's rendering of an office tower in the proposed One Paseo project in Carmel Valley shows how it would be built on a lower-lying area on the east side of the property.

“We have addressed density,” Kilroy said. “The project that we proposed today is one-third less than we proposed originally. The height of the office buildings is roughly 25 percent reduced from what we originally proposed and 20 feet lower than what we proposed in October."

An office tower proposed in the project would now be 150 feet high rather than 170 feet and would be built on the lowest corner of the site, which reduces its high profile, he said.

“We can’t make it smaller than it is right now,” Kilroy said. “It just won’t work.“

Lobbying

Kilroy’s media consultant, Rachel Laing, points to lobbying from the existing shopping center across the road from the One Paseo site as the source of much of the opposition to the project. The Del Mar Heights Town Center has poured more than a million dollars in recent months into opposing the new development, according to a report in the Voice of San Diego.

Farinsky said some of the money paid for mailers sent by his group — What Price Main Street? — but that doesn’t detract from its grass-roots base.

“We have been getting funding from the Town Center. They are a member of our group,” Farinsky said. “But we represent more than 5,000 people in the community, so the idea we’re run by them is out there. More than 5,000 people agree that this project is too big.”

Photo by Katie Schoolov

The site of the proposed One Paseo development in Carmel Valley, Jan. 9, 2015.

For him, the 150-foot office tower looks like something that should be in downtown San Diego's East Villagen, not in Carmel Valley.

“The project is so over the top that they can reduce it by a third and it is still too big,” Farinsky said. “We’re not NIMBYS. People are for a mixed-use project on this site. We are pro-development. We’re just against this massive over-development.”

Ironically, the lack of public transit is also one of the reasons the developer argues it is not feasible to reduce the size of the buildings. To keep open space for public amenities, all the vehicle parking is underground and, Kilroy said, one underground parking stall costs $40,000.

Stepner said One Paseo is trying to build more density without existing public transit, while creating the feel of the community town center that Carmel Valley needs.

“If it doesn’t work out financially to do improvements to the streets, to the public spaces, then you really have something that’s just another shopping center,” Stepner said. “I think that’s the issue. That’s what the development team has been trying to do, is balance all that.”

Because of the high interest in this project, San Diego officials tried to find a venue in Carmel Valley for Monday's 2 p.m. public hearing. That effort failed so the meeting will be held in the council chambers of the City Administration Building at 202 C St.

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