Public outreach has begun on a proposal for a mixed-use project for Rancho Santa Fe. The 25,000-square-foot Village Gateway project would replace the gas station at the entrance to the village at Via de Santa Fe and La Granada.
The Village Gateway will include a mix of office and retail use, an underground parking garage, park and patio space and a monument to welcome people into Rancho Santa Fe.
At a meeting held May 12 at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, project consultant Jim Simmons said they are looking to enhance the ambiance and use of the village by adding potential retail uses such as restaurants and a jewelry store, as well as providing open spaces for the community to gather.
“We’ve been working for about a year to think of different ways to develop the site, looking at how to develop it in a meaningful way and solve the problems inherent with the site, including the shape, size and present use,” Simmons said, noting that a Rancho Santa Fe-based development team has a strong focus on carrying the “theme and spirit” of the village.
Robert Green, RSF Association building commissioner, said the developers have been working with the Covenant Design Review Committee. But because of the project’s prominence, the committee felt it would be a good idea to hold a series of informational meetings with the public.
Developers Enrique Landa and his son, Fernando, said that as Rancho Santa Fe residents, they are very sensitive to the community’s needs. Fernando Landa said they have heard the gas station called an “eyesore,” and that the property should be brought up to the level of the community. They have also heard from restaurateurs that there is not enough parking. Continuing to get feedback is vital.
“We want to take in everyone’s suggestions and incorporate them as much as we can into the project,” Fernando Landa said.
Enrique Landa, who met the landowners, the Rababy family, as a customer of the gas station, said he is interested in being as transparent as possible with the community as they go through the development process.
“We really want to do it right,” he said, noting they have entered a 40-year lease on the property with the Rababys.
The developer has proposed taking an excess right of way on La Flecha to expand the 25,769-square-foot site to 30,810 square feet. The street will still be the full width, but the curbside parking will go away, replaced by parking space in the underground garage.
The project’s three-level parking garage would have 138 full-size spaces, more than the 88 spaces that would be required. The parking garage would be open for village users, although it might be paid parking, similar to the use of the Del Mar Plaza garage, Simmons said.
Developing the project will be costly, as it involves digging the three-level subterranean garage as well as dealing with gas contamination from the station. Simmons said the site has been under a clean-up order from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health for several years. No further remediation is required currently, but it will be required if the site is developed. Simmons said they will have to take the soil out and dispose of it in a proper, lawful way.
“One of the issues we’re going to have to deal with is traffic,” Simmons said. Adding a 25,000-square-foot building will bring more cars to the roads.
The developers have agreed to do a traffic study before they submit their application to the county.
Simmons said they have also considered how they will interface with Plaza de Santa Fe across the street, such as aligning the driveways to allow users to reach the post office and whatever replaces the Village Market space.
Green said the project faces challenges with Covenant regulations similar to those faced by the controversial Lilian development many years back.
The first regulation is the floor area ratio (FAR), which is determined using a formula dividing the floor area by the total site area. The code permitted in the village commercial district zone is a FAR of .6 with a permitted bonus of .75. The bonus is allowed if the project meets several criteria: The building must be Spanish-colonial Lilian Rice-style design, a total of not less than 10 percent of the site area must be used as courtyards, no portion can exceed one story, and at least 25 percent of the ground floor area must be retail use.
By these regulations, the developers would be allowed to build a 23,107-square-foot building using the .75 bonus. As the applicant is proposing the extra square footage and a two-story building, a variance will be needed.
One resident asked whether the developers would consider scaling the project back to meet the regulatory code and questioned why the Association has guidelines if developers don’t have to necessarily stick to them.
Green said that is a task for the decision-makers. He said the project will have to be examined carefully by the Covenant Design Review Committee, which will make a recommendation to the Association board. That board has final approval.
“The idea is to bring more amenity to the village than impact,” Simmons said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to earn the right to have the variance.”
As Green noted, the developer will also have to submit a construction management program to the committee, which will include things like how long it will take to excavate the site, where trucks will go, where employees will park, the hours of work and how the site will be cleaned up.
One resident asked whether there was any way to increase the retail requirement for the project, as the community will be losing the service of the gas station as well as its grocery store when Village Market leaves.
“Everyone in the community is tired of another bank and real estate offices. It would be a great benefit if you brought in a restaurant or grill or something interesting, because our village right now is not interesting,” the resident said, questioning many of the renderings at the meeting being labeled as “Rancho Santa Fe Office Center.”
Simmons said they have heard that feedback from the community and the goal is to get as much retail as possible. They are looking at 4,900 square feet of retail, almost double what they started with.
Another resident said while she loves jewels, she’s not as enthusiastic about having a jewelry store. She would rather see retail that people would visit more frequently on a regular basis. Some suggestions from the audience included fast-casual restaurants.
The resident also said that since the project has been stated to be costly, she hoped that retail businesses that can enhance the community will be able to afford the rent.