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By the end of the year, Carmel Valley will likely know the fate of the controversial proposed mega development, One Paseo.
The $650 million project, paid for by developer Kilroy Realty, would create a dense, multi-purpose commercial and residential area in Carmel Valley, like the village centers envisioned in San Diego’s “community of villages” development concept adopted in 2008.
But it’d do so in a historically suburban and car-centric area, far flung from the city’s core and poorly serviced by public transit.
Community opposition, concerned over the increased traffic the project would bring to the area, would prefer if the land in question were used for a large scale office-only development. The parcel is currently zoned to allow 500,000 square feet of office space.
That opposition has sparred with the developer and project supporters over their competing visions of One Paseo and its effect on Carmel Valley since it was initially proposed four years ago.
Opponents even named their organization “What Price Main Street?” — an attempt to frame the debate over building the pedestrian-friendly project.
Later this month, the issue will go before the Carmel Valley Planning Board, where developers will outline recent revisions to the plan. Discussion is expected to spill over into the board’s February meeting, when it could come up for a vote. A series of other decision points stand between a final outcome for the project, but it’s possible they could be resolved in time to break ground before the end of 2013.
Located on a 23-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Del Mar Heights Road and El Camino Real, the project would establish over 1.4 million square feet of space, including 608 housing units, nearly 200,000 square feet of retail space, nearly 500,000 square feet of office space, 3,650 parking spaces and seven acres of open spaces or public outdoor areas. It includes a movie theater and bowling alley.
To compensate for the project’s effects, Kilroy has promised $20 million in funding for schools, facilities, infrastructure and city services.
Those sorts of developer fees are common with large projects, though the liability, maintenance and continued services for those improvements ultimately falls to the city. In theory, those ongoing payments would be accounted for in increased tax revenue from the project.
The project, per Kilroy’s estimate, would bring the city $1 million in annual tax revenue.
Kilroy has also produced its own report on the economic impact of the project. It projected $630 million in economic benefit, including the creation of 1,500 permanent jobs and 3,800 construction jobs.
Neither the city nor the project’s opposition has the resources to launch its own economic forecast, leaving Kilroy’s unchallenged. But Bob Fuchs, a member of the organized opposition, said those economic growth projections rely on a faulty comparison, one where no development takes place on the parcel.
Many of the jobs envisioned in the projection, especially the best-paying jobs, could still be created even without One Paseo, if the parcel was instead used for the 500,000 square feet of office space already green-lit for development there.
“We aren’t opposed to growth,” Fuchs said.
In late November, Kilroy scaled back the project to its current size, attributing the move to comments from the city and community members.
Many of those comments came in response to the first formal review of the project’s environmental effects, released in March.
That report found that the project would significantly impact the neighborhood in two areas: traffic and neighborhood character.
And the debate over the project essentially hinges on those same two concerns.
One Paseo has been billed as a walkable neighborhood in an area historically defined by sprawl, where residents could not only live, but conceivably work and socialize too.
That’s the sort of village center San Diego had in mind when it updated its general plan four years ago.
The problem: The existing area still fits the older city-of-villages model. Therefore, the project would create a walkable neighborhood once you’re there, but chances are you’ll need a car to get there.
And that means more traffic for an already congested area.
Depending on who you talk to, the proposed One Paseo development is either the culmination of a 30-year vision or a total contradiction of current land use policy.
The 23-acre parcel in question is presently zoned for the construction of 500,000 square feet of office space. One Paseo includes 500,000 square foot of office space, in addition to all kinds of other projects.
Changing the entitlement to allow a mixed-use project with much more square footage requires an amendment to the zone’s planning document. The city is accepting comments on the proposed amendment through May.
“They say this is smart growth, it’s mixed-use, all the buzzwords used in planning circles,” Fuchs said. “Carmel Valley is a suburban neighborhood, and they’re using all these euphemistic comparisons that don’t stack up.”
But the Carmel Valley Community Plan, adopted in 1975, described a vision for the area that would eventually make it a self-reliant neighborhood in line with the city-of-villages concept San Diego adopted nearly 30 years later.
That adds to the stalemate: The parcel-specific use and the neighborhood-level plan side with the opposition; the developers have the community and general plans on their side.
Elyse Lowe, executive director of Move San Diego, an advocacy group for transit-oriented development that has endorsed the project, said the opposition should have objected to the general plan update at the time.
“The developer could have just built office space, but the reality is we need mixed-use,” Lowe said. “It’s such a unique parcel, there aren’t many parcels in that proximity to jobs and community amenities, so it’s really something they need to treat as unique and get the most out of it.”
And, in a countywide map delineating areas marked for dense, mixed-use development, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) flagged the specific parcel in question, suggesting it accommodate the region’s third densest level of development.
The other major land use-related questions facing the project have to do with its access to public transit.
SANDAG’s new bus rapid transit line — a bus line with the comfort and frequency of rail service — includes a detour that would bring it through the heart of the development, though it isn’t scheduled for completion until 2030.
One Paseo will also operate a private shuttle between the development and nearby Coaster stations.
“The cornerstone of One Paseo is walkability,” said Steve Scott, Kilroy’s senior vice president. “It’s very pedestrian-centric. You don’t see miles of parking, you see a very walkable environment.”
It might not include miles of parking, but it does include nearly 4,000 parking spaces and sits 20 transit-starved miles from the city’s urban core. The environmental review’s traffic study makes clear that regardless of how walkable the project will be once there, many visitors will have to arrive by car before they walk around.
(The traffic study notably doesn’t include Kilroy’s offer to pay to better synchronize traffic signals in the area, something the company says would further ameliorate the issue.)
“I’d like to see fewer parking spaces, but the developer is responding to market demand,” Lowe said.
The problem of transit accessibility for neighborhoods that increase density isn’t particular to One Paseo, or even San Diego.
In his book “Walkable City,” smart-growth advocate Jeff Speck argues that density often needs to come first, and transit capacity will follow.
“While walkability benefits from good transit, good transit relies absolutely on walkability,” he writes.
Bernard Turgeon, a City of San Diego planner assigned to the community, said the One Paseo debate sets the stage for similar showdowns in San Diego’s future.
“There is an opportunity for these mixed-use developments to provide a benefit even to suburban locations,” he said. “Opposition really gets down to what level of intensity you want, and the commensurate impact on the community.”
The Year Ahead
The Carmel Valley Planning Board will hold a hearing on One Paseo Jan. 24. A secondary hearing is planned for the board’s February meeting, where the plan is likely to face a vote that would send it to the planning commission.
Frisco White, chairman of the planning board, said the city is hopeful a final version of the report on the project’s environmental impact, reflecting the plan’s recent reductions, will be available before the February hearing.
If not, the vote could be pushed into March, or the plan could be voted on before the release of a final environmental review with the expectation that the review wouldn’t include any major revelations.
From there, One Paseo could be set for a late spring vote before the citywide planning commission, and a late-summer vote before the City Council.
Under that timeframe, and assuming final approval, the project would break ground by year’s end — unless opponents mount a legal challenge.
“That’s always a possibility,” Scott said.
“That’s not our thrust. We’re not raising money for a lawsuit,” said Fuchs. “We’re trying to get accurate information out.”
I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter
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