Carmel Valley Planning Board chair Frisco White had to bang his gavel only once Nov. 13, sharply reprimanding a few participants who interrupted a feisty debate that threatened to escalate among residents adamantly opposed to a planned cinema at Pardee Homes’ Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch, located at the corner of
Insisting the village project follows the PHR sub-area plan of the 1990s, and that the cinema will attract visitors to restaurants and shops, Pardee representative Ron Brockhoff, director of multi-family and commercial development with Pardee, and Ted Shaw, of Latitude 33 Engineering, Pardee, presented revised plans they hope will make the village center a community asset.
Pardee envisions the 27.67 acre village center as a pedestrian-enticing, walkable community embracing an attractive mix of uses, lush landscaping, and curving paths, with restaurants and shops that will invite residents into the center. “The movie theatre will draw people; otherwise other [village] uses will flounder,” Shaw said.
Pacific Highlands Ranch Village comprises 292 residential dwellings (affordable and market-rate), 215,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, a transit center, an 18,000 sq. ft. community library, and a three-acre civic use area.
As of the board’s Nov. 13 meeting, a tally of online adjacent homeowner votes revealed 97 residents opposed to the cinema and only about eight approving. A typical voter comment read, “I do not recall any proposal to build a movie theatre when I purchased my home two years ago . . . I vote absolutely No.” Other residents’ concerns were: lack of information dispersed to the community, desire for increased planning board’s involvement in homeowners’ concerns, and lack of time for residents to evaluate the project.
Some in the audience as well as board members, however, praised the scale and atmosphere of the project, the possibility of increased home values, the flowing central corridor and a place for students to mix with the community.
Pardee made concessions to residents since their Oct. presentation, reducing the cinema area to 35,000 sq. ft. from 46,900 sq. ft., to house about eight theatres. Brockhoff also said restrictions on times of late night films are possible, with an increase in security for activities detrimental to the village.
Announcing he is an engineer, Airoso community action committee member Dean Dubey and his wife, Karen, read a recent homeowners’ letter accusing Pardee of a “bait and switch tactic,” decrying what was perceived to be Pardee’s “master manipulation of public opinion,” complaining that homeowners were not initially informed of the cinema, and insisting on an explanation in writing from Pardee regarding any deviations from the sub-area plan.
Would the residents themselves like to be able to walk across the street to a movie? “In your heart of hearts, would [the cinema] increase the value of your homes?” asked one audience member. Regional issues co-chair Anne Harvey responded to some residents’ fears that movies would distract students from an adjacent school, saying that students mixing with the community and mingling would be a good idea, rather than isolating them.
Board member Gary Levitt agreed, recalling early plans for the Del Mar Highlands shopping center where “neon tubes stood out like UFOs. We have a school next door (to the mall) where kids hang out. In reality, you know where your kids are. It’s better than having to drive them. It’s better for me as a parent to know where my kids are. It’s a real center for the community. I want to own across from a shopping center so I don’t have to get into my car.”
In this latest revision, Pardee redesigned the village square to provide more lawn area and water features, rotating a building at the southern end of the village square so that it is more parallel to Village Loop Rd. A tower has been re-aligned along the side and not center, of the square, and trellises were added to screen the high school to the south. Commercial uses are designated for the ground level, with residential units on the third and fourth levels added without increasing the height of the buildings.
So, it is now a more comprehensive design with residential units above and a revised plaza design, with residential placed behind the movie theatre. To the northeast, a traffic light will mark a busy intersection, Shaw said.
Pardee has agreed not to disturb private developments on the northern edge of the village center, and to work on a deal with those developers to create a pedestrian walkway with a sidewalk or connector to the village center. Chair White suggested those developers put their plans on paper and make sure that pedestrian link is there. Brockhoff said Pardee would be happy to work with the Gonzales family development to the north on the link.
Senior city planner Bernie Turgeon has said the site’s objective is to be pedestrian oriented and a new urban plan with entertainment uses, not only for shops and errands, said boardmember and PHR resident Patti Abramson. The idea is to have town homes on all sides of the theatre to provide eyes for security purposes. “Bernie said he is still concerned about the width between buildings so that it will not look too narrow and will provide pedestrian movement,” regional issues co-chair Jan Fuchs commented.
Scott Tillson liked the “European approach” adding two levels of residential units and revitalizing the area during the evenings. “It’s a good idea to keep traffic and customer pattern away from residences. By and large, I’m pleased with the changes you made; it reflects well on the project.”
Less wide than a city street block, the 50 to 65 ft. wide village central corridor will provide room for people sitting outside, yet will still be wide enough for the fire dept. to access, said Shaw.
As for a completion date, “Our timeline will be a little bit aggressive next year,’ Brockhoff said, constructing a 43,000 sq. ft. specialty grocery but only 7,000 sq. ft. (or one-half) of another retail building will be built next year. Completion is slated for 2013, the ‘best scenario.’” “The bottom line is, everything is in phases,” said chair White.
An EIR was prepared that reflected this overall project and the city has looked at the traffic generated, Shaw said. Asked about revenues generated or finance costs, Brockhoff said they are “difficult to peg” so far away from completion, adding, “We are a very private company.”
Homeowners concluded, “No board member should vote for this plan. We expect Pardee to deliver what was promised.” A homeowner dissented at the end of the debate, however, saying, “Kids have no place to go; a bookstore won’t do it. We need alternatives that are youth friendly.”
“It’s a good site plan,” said another resident who approved of the project’s scale, mixed use and cinema. We need to have a place where teenagers can go out at night, walk to restaurants, Trader Joe’s, etc. The cinema is a key in bringing people here.”
“I love this project,” vice chair Ken Farinsky said. “If it were in (our
White suggested continuing until December or January discussions of the village at the community rather than city level to make more people aware of the project since there is “such a community-wide non-support of the project.”
But, would weeks or months of debate make a difference? Brockhoff said even three more months of discussion “might not delete the cinema. We strongly believe this plan follows the sub-area plan of the 1990’s,” he said, approving of the way pedestrians can drive into the heart of the village and then walk everywhere else. “We designed [the village] to the intent of the planning document. I have a say in the decision process; we want to develop our land to its highest and best use.”
Brockhoff intends to submit the plan to the city for their input. “At the end of the day, we need to get the city’s endorsement.”