By: Gary London

As Published in the San Diego Business Journal, February 18, 2013

Last week I reviewed the plans for the One Paseo project, a proposed 1.4 million-square-foot mixed-use development to be located at El Camino Real and Del Mar Heights Road in Carmel Valley. Issues have been raised, particularly as to its “urban” design in a suburban community, and its potential impact on traffic. I attempt to provide perspective as to why this project is an important one, and a correct land use solution.

The eyes of the nation are looking at One Paseo, considered by many to be a perfect example of smart development as espoused by the Urban Land Institute, which has embraced smart growth as “… economically sound, environmentally responsible, and supportive of community livability — growth that enhances quality of life … harnessing the economic energy of growth or redevelopment to improve community livability.”

Its impact is to transform the most strategic, still undeveloped, parcel in an all but built out, affluent master planned Carmel Valley into a community “hub” where the emphasis is on enlightening the senses with all that a “man built” environment can muster. It is being designed to create a “place” where none exists today that will become what I expect to be a celebration of what great design and development can achieve.

The Opposition

Yet, the project is being challenged by a small — but vocal — group of community residents, who are now attempting to convince the Carmel Valley Planning Group to vote against this project and recommend to the San Diego City Planning Commission, and ultimately, the City Council, to reject it.

Here is a synopsis of the big issues:

Traffic: The proposed solution will actually improve street and intersection performance at a level beyond the existing zone-compliant office designation. However, the tension in this project is whether the proposed solutions are believable and adequate. At least One Paseo addresses these head-on, whereas the existing zone adds rush-hour trips into a system with no hope for traffic improvements.

Shopping Competition: There is an already bustling, congested Del Mar Highlands Center across the street. Owners of the center have expressed concern that they will lose retail sales to One Paseo. The problem with this argument is that there is more than enough money to be spent, such that Carmel Valley residents already make shopping trips out of the area and spend most of their dollars outside the community.

My firm conducted a market study on the retail element of this project and determined that currently 55 percent of retail expenditures in what we term the “neighborhood” shopping categories are not being met in Carmel Valley. This partly explains why the existing centers are overcrowded with shoppers and vehicles. The development of a retail center at One Paseo will most likely spread these shopping trips out between the two centers without revenue to the existing center missing a beat. The new tenants — Trader Joe’s, a theatre, new restaurants, etc.—will only enhance the shopping and living experiences for Carmel Valley residents. One Paseo effectively keeps residents and, not incidentally, sales tax revenue, back into the boundaries of the city of San Diego.

Density in suburbia: This is a less tangible concern but probably the elephant in the room. Some existing residents like their suburban lifestyle and enclave. They are uncomfortable with the intrusion of a high-density, mixed-use project. I do not sympathize with this argument. Communities evolve, needs change, project sophistication increases. People don’t like change, and this is a big one. Moreover, we have to remember who we are planning for in the community plans — in this case it is the future generations, the Gen-Ys and families. One Paseo caters to this segment. Will we rise to the occasion and design for the future? Or will we strictly listen to the statist doctrine of existing bedroom-community residents and design for the past?

1982 Vs. 2013

Without projects like One Paseo, this community and this region live in a suburb frozen in 1982.

That community is now a vestigial remainder of aged planning and outdated community plans. One Paseo is a transformational project that not only will likely have the impact of infusing urban vigor into the community, but set the pace for similar developments throughout San Diego for years to come.

This change is a positive one. With some fortitude, the City of San Diego will ultimately approve this project and hold it up as a model of what is wanted and expected of real estate developers in the 21st Century.