Tensions and theatrics ran high during a hearing on the fate of Carmel Valley’s proposed 23-acre, 1.4 million square foot mixed-use development Thursday night.
Among the 400-plus residents who showed up at Canyon Crest Academy’s auditorium, project supporters wore “Support Main Street” buttons; opponents sported “Save Carmel Valley” stickers.
If 2013 is the year that will decide the fate of One Paseo, things aren’t off to a great start for the project’s developers and supporters. As expected, the board delayed its decision on the project until its February meeting.
Throughout the three-hour hearing before the Carmel Valley Planning Board, project opponents filled the auditorium with dismissive, sarcastic laughter whenever a representative from Kilroy Realty, the project’s developer, argued in favor of its $650 million project.
Mayor Bob Filner’s appearance did not tamp down the dramatics — he arrived late to the meeting and built suspense in the opening moments of his remarks before chastising Kilroy’s development process and forcefully speaking against the project.
He said he couldn’t believe Kilroy initially proposed 2.1 million square feet of development on a parcel with existing allowance of only 500,000 square feet of office space.
“I didn’t understand how anybody who said they respect the community starts off with four times what the community plan says. I don’t understand how you start with that,” Filner said. “The community plan was a contract, as far as I could see. And we spent a lot of time on it. People put their heart and soul into it, I’m sure. Once something is there, there has to be a pretty good reason to have a massive amendment, like you all are proposing.”
Responding to Filner’s request for a “pretty good reason” to amend the parcel’s existing entitlement, project opponents sarcastically shouted “Trader Joe’s!” amid continued laughter and despite pleas for respect from Frisco White, the planning board’s chairman. Kilroy has used the possibility of a Trader Joe’s in the development as a major selling point.
County Supervisor Dave Roberts also spoke out against the project.
“I personally believe that this project still does not fit the community character of Carmel Valley,” Roberts said. “I have offered if asked to sit down with the developer and to try to work on something that would work. I understand what quality of life is, and what quality of life isn’t, and shoehorning a project that is three times the zoning will not work for this site.”
Councilwoman Sherri Lightner reiterated that she couldn’t choose a side on a project for which she’ll eventually have to cast a decisive vote.
Roberts has no decision-making authority on the project. Filner can’t veto City Council decisions on land-use issues, so he won’t have any formal say on the issue.
Yet despite all the histrionics on display, nothing of substance changed Thursday night for a project that has long faced opposition.
But representatives from Kilroy, and community members who support the project, couldn’t have left the meeting in high spirits.
Board members bombarded developers with questions on the validity of conclusions made in a traffic report that accompanied an initial environmental impact report last year and on the proposed 8-story office buildings that are part of the project. Some members didn’t ask questions at all, and simply explained their opposition to the project.
Filner echoed the fundamental sticking point facing the project: The parcel’s current zoning allows for far less development than Kilroy is proposing. But the city of San Diego updated its general plan in 2008 to adopt a “city of villages” growth strategy — one strongly supported by Filner in his mayoral campaign — that’s consistent with the mixed-use design of One Paseo.
While One Paseo, situated away from transit corridors in suburban Carmel Valley, isn’t the sort of urban infill project at the heart of the city-of-villages concept, it does jibe with the planning community trend known as “suburban retrofitting,” or repurposing ’60s-era sprawl into pseudo-urban centers. The development would create a walkable neighborhood within its boundaries, but many of those walkers will need to arrive by car, at least initially.
A report on the project’s environmental effects released last year spelled out the considerable impact it would have on traffic in the area, an outcome at the heart of much of the opposition. A new environmental report and traffic study that reflects recent reductions to the project is expected before the February board meeting.
Regardless of the opposition voiced by Filner, Roberts and some members of the planning board, One Paseo’s status today is just as it was yesterday: It’s facing heavy local resistance and awaits a vote of the planning board at February’s meeting.
That vote will only serve as the board’s suggestion to the citywide planning commission, which this spring is expected to vote on whether to send the project to the City Council for a final decision.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Mayor Bob Filner had veto power over the City Council’s eventual decision on One Paseo. The City Attorney’s Office has since clarified that the mayor cannot veto land-use decisions.
I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter
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