Construction on Rancho Santa Fe project at Whispering Palms entrance slated to begin soon


By Joe Tash

Construction will likely begin in late January 2014 on a long-delayed residential and commercial project at the entrance to the Whispering Palms community in Rancho Santa Fe, said the project’s developer.

The Palma de la Reina project will include 54 apartments, 19,500 square feet of office space, and 9,500 square feet of retail shops. It will be built on a 4.3-acre parcel at the corner of Via de la Valle and Cancha de Golf.

“I think we will come out of the ground with the construction sometime in the latter part of January,” said developer Richard Cavanaugh.

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Cavanaugh and his company, Newport Pacific, Inc. Residents of Whispering Palms staunchly oppose the project, contending it will add to existing traffic congestion in the area and that it packs too much development onto the parcel. They have filed a series of lawsuits challenging the project and its environmental documents, but a Superior Court judge in January cleared the way for construction to begin.

The Whispering Palms Community Council could have appealed the judge’s decision, but over the summer agreed to drop further legal challenges if Cavanaugh would pay nearly $200,000 in legal costs to the council, stemming from an earlier ruling in the case.

Current and former members of the community council declined requests for interviews for this story. But in an email, Jeff Carmel, a long-time council member who was involved in the legal battle over Palma de la Reina and has since stepped down from the panel, said the group felt it had taken the fight as far as it could.

The project had also drawn opposition from the San Dieguito Community Planning Group and the Rancho Santa Fe Association, although it was ultimately approved by the County Board of Supervisors.

Crews have completed grading on the site and put in most of the needed utility lines, said Cavanaugh, the original developer of Whispering Palms, and also a resident of the community. Whispering Palms includes about 600 single-family homes and condominiums.

Cavanaugh said he’s been working with the county to get the needed building permits for about four months, and that he was planning to pick up one of the permits the week of Dec. 9. He expects construction of the commercial portion of the project to take eight months, and the residential component to take 14 months. Work on both sections will take place simultaneously.

Although opposition to the project by nearby residents has been stiff, Cavanaugh said he believes the community will warm to the development once it is completed, and the community-serving retail shops are open.

“It’s going to be a nice project and the community will be a lot better for it,” he said. “It’s just a good thing, period.”

Controversy over the vacant parcel dates back at least to the 1990s, when Cavanaugh proposed building an assisted living facility on the property. Residents also opposed that plan, and it was later withdrawn.

County supervisors voted unanimously in January 2010 to allow the project to move forward. Supervisor Ron Roberts said he had been convinced residents would come to regret their opposition to the assisted living facility, because the current mixed-use development will generate more noise and traffic.

“I think we’re seeing that regret,” said Roberts at the 2010 meeting. “I don’t think there are grounds for us to overturn this and after 20 years of processing it’s time to move on.”

Residents, for their part, say opposition to Palma de la Reina is not a NIMBY (not in my back yard) reaction, but just a desire to see a project built on the empty lot that is compatible with Whispering Palms.

“There should be a different system whereby a neighborhood like this doesn’t have to go through a 20-year fight… to get some intelligent planning on (this) lot, which everybody wants developed,” said resident Margaret Gooding.