The Rancho Santa Fe Association board approved the Gateway project on June 1, which aims to bring a new commercial development to the village and replace the existing gas station. The board’s vote was 5-2 with directors Allen Finkelson and Janet Danola opposed.
“We’re very thankful for all of the support we’ve received from the community,” said Fernando Landa, part of the Landrock development team that includes his father Enrique.
Landrock has been at work on the development for over five years and has held 12 public hearings —when the project first started it was just an office building with limited parking and open space. Now it includes office and retail, a parking garage, a revitalization of the village’s entry gateway with a landscaped open space plaza, and plans for a 5,000-square-foot market.
“I think all of the input we’ve received has resulted in a project that the whole community can be proud of,” Landa said. “We are confident that the community will support the market and make it a success.”
The two-story, 27,017-square-foot Gateway project will include three levels of underground parking with 138 full-size spaces, 48 spaces over what the project would be required.
The RSF Association board approved a bonus floor area ratio (FAR) and variance for the project. Per the Association’s regulatory code, the bonus FAR can be granted if the project meets three of four criteria: That the project does not exceed one story, that it meets Lilian Rice architecture standards, that not less than 10 percent is used for courtyards, and that at least 25 percent of the ground floor is retail use.
The RSF Covenant Design Review Committee and the RSF Association board found that the project successfully meets three of the four criteria as 13 percent of the project will be courtyards, 36 percent of the ground floor will be for retail use, and the building “harmonizes” with the surrounding Lilian Rice architecture in the village.
Building Commissioner Tom Farrar complimented the project’s wrought iron details, tile roofs, ornamental stucco, arcades, destressed wooden doors, central courtyard and open green space. The project’s four buildings are broken up to reduce bulk and are made to look more like residences than commercial buildings.
Directors Finkelson’s and Danola’s opposition to the project centered on the agreement the board struck with Landrock, that it does not include a guarantee that a market will fill the space. The RSF Association had requested that the project include a deed-restriction that a market be provided in perpetuity.
“I respect their intentions and good faith to put in a market but I basically believe this is a bad business deal,” Finkelson said. “At most this is a shot at getting a market… There’s no assurance that a market will ever materialize.”
Finkelson said while he respects good intentions, he respects documents more. Finkelson said the agreement documents obligate the developer to use “commercially reasonable best efforts” to lease to a grocer for a five-year term.
The obligation to get a grocery tenant cuts off six months after the building’s occupancy.
“If that space can’t be rented then the developer is permitted to use that space for other retail,” Finkelson said.
Finkelson also has concerns that the land owners are not obligated to the agreement, only the developer. Landrock has a 40- to 80-year ground lease with the land owners but if it terminates at any time, he warned that the agreement made with the developer likely no longer exists. He said the board tried to get the land owner to agree to the same agreements as the developer but they were unsuccessful.
Landa stated it is true that they do not know if a market will want to move into the Ranch — it faces challenges as it is a low density location and there are a lot of competing stores in the general vicinity.
“We cannot guarantee that a market can come to Rancho Santa Fe but we can guarantee that we will give our best efforts to get that market here,” said Landa, noting they have had discussions with potential tenants such as Stehly Farms and Seaside Market.
Landa said RSF Association staff will be involved in the negotiations of getting a market and if, for any reason, they cannot secure a market they have agreed to limited retail users permitted in that space — there will be no bank, no financial institution or real estate office.
“We are committed to doing this for the community and we’re confident that there will be a market,” Landa said.
In offering his support for Gateway, Director Rick Sapp said he knows the project is not perfect but he believes there is a balance of risk that has to be taken.
“I respect the Landas for their undertaking and making the effort to put the market in place,” Sapp said. “We’re dealing here in good faith, that’s how America was built. It’s worth taking a shot.”
As a condition of the approval, LandRock must submit a construction management plan that outlines details such as construction worker parking, truck routes and times and construction hours. Construction is expected to take 20 to 24 months — Landa said the most challenging aspect of the project will be remediation of the former gas station site and any contaminated soil and building the underground structure, which is expected to take up to 18 months.
Landa thanked the RSF Association for the collaborative and cooperative work on the project over the last five years and said he looks forward to gaining the support of those board members who voted no.