Senior facility aims to be ‘non-urban’ in character

A senior housing development is planned for the vacant lot adjacent to the polo fields on Via de la Valle — whether or not the project is subject to a city-wide vote remains a topic of debate.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s Prop A subcommittee met on Nov. 21 to discuss Prop A as it relates to the proposed facility, Hacienda Del Mar. Prop A, which passed in 1985, states that any development on agriculturally-zoned land is to be very low density housing, open space or agricultural use. Any more intense development must go to a city-wide vote.

The planning board and the city have to make a policy decision on whether the project is urban or non-urban in scale and character — if deemed to be an urban project it would require a general plan amendment and a vote of the people.

The developers, Milan Capital, acknowledge that it is ultimately a policy decision but they believe what they are proposing would not require a vote.

“There is no doubt that it is Prop A land,” said David Watson, an attorney for the Hacienda Del Mar project. “Over the last two years, Milan has tried to come up with a project that the community might consider to be non-urban in character and scale, and of a high enough quality that they could consider supporting.”

Per the municipal code, hospitals, intermediate care and nursing facilities are prohibited on Prop A lands but would be allowed with a conditional use permit. In 1995, San Diego City Council adopted growth management guidelines known as the Framework Plan, which allows for “rural cluster” development on Prop A lands.

“Hacienda Del Mar is a rural, clustered development, non-urban in character and scale, designed and sited in the most environmentally-sensitive manner,” Watson said. “For these reasons, it is consistent with all Prop A General Plan, Framework Plan and municipal code requirements.”

Barry Schultz, vice chair of the planning board, was attempting to grasp exactly what would define a project as urban or non-urban and what threshold of development would cause a vote.

To committee member Jay Powell, who was involved in the origins of Prop A, it is important to protect what is left of agricultural land in the city. Powell said the main reason for Prop A was to provide a mechanism for residents if developers are not following the general plan. He is concerned about exemptions made on Prop A lands; he believes any development should be taken to a vote of the people.

“De-facto suburbanization has happened without Prop A which is not the intent,” Powell said. “The battle that I think we lost was in the city council’s interpretation, allowing clustering to occur in the intensity that it did.”

Watson said the developers understand that the 20 acres in the San Dieguito River Valley is the last open space there is in the area.

Hacienda Del Mar is planned to have less than 10 percent lot coverage, with the remainder of the 23.87-acre site used for dedicated open space.

A total of four, one-story buildings will be clustered below a hillside at the eastern portion of the property and all building setbacks are at least 55 feet, more than double the required 25 feet. In the site’s agricultural residential zone, one unit is allowed per 10 acres. Under the planned residential development code with no vote, the maximum allowed would be four units. Watson said the developers are looking to stay within that allowed square footage of four large residential estate units.

The remaining 11 acres on the western side of the property, closest to El Camino Real, will be open space with restored natural habitat.

“As long as the majority of the site — in this case 90 percent — is not developed, than that whole corner would still be open,” Watson said. “And as the polo field is owned by the city, that will still be open space. So you would have this wide open space area with a small cluster up against the hill.”

The previous project, Rancho Del Mar, was much more urban in scale, Watson said. At one point, the Rancho Del Mar plan called for 225 care casitas spread across the entire lot and a 29,147-square-foot wellness center across the street.

“The current developer has tried really hard to work with the community and come up with a project that is non-urban in scale and would not create a negative precedent,” Watson said.

What could make Hacienda Del Mar considered urban in character, Schultz pointed out, is the project’s intensity of services. Schultz said that more than just looking rustic, the planning board must also consider the use, the employee parking requirements and what it will take to serve the senior community.

Senior housing has the lowest amount of trips generated from any other use and typically has less demand at peak traffic hours, but the concern is that a facility would still generate more traffic than if it was just estate homes on the property.

A notice of preparation of Hacienda Del Mar’s environmental impact report is set to go out to residents soon and a scoping meeting will be held in December. At the scoping meeting, all members of the public are invited to come and provide input on what the EIR (environmental impact report) should study.

The draft EIR would be prepared and released for comments in 2017.