Residents gathered on Wednesday night, May 25, to hear Ambient Communities present their initial proposal for the next phase of the Towncenter in San Elijo Hills. You could feel the ‘cautious optimism’ in the room – as residents who desperately want to see this part of our community completed, were anxiously awaiting the proposal – hoping to not be disappointed.
If you’d like to see the details of the entire meeting, you can click here to view the full video. However, for a quick overview, we will do our best here to summarize for you here.
Overall, residents were pleasantly surprised and happy to see a proposal that addresses all of the major concerns that have been expressed in recent years as a result of previous proposals.
The proposal includes four free standing commercial buildings in the town square across from the existing retail space as well as twelve townhomes. The townhomes sit just behind the Chevron. In addition, there is a proposed 7500 sq.ft. building next to Café Stoked and the triangle of space sitting behind the Café would be home to twelve additional townhomes that match those behind the Chevron as well as another small commercial space of about 2500 sq. ft.
It’s hard to capture the full concept of what the project is in a simple short article, but – let’s start with what the project is NOT.
What it is Not:
Most retail developments are straight buildings that share common walls with a front of the house and back of the house. This development is NOT that. Instead, it is four-sided architecture with adjacent parking.
The guiding principles in designing the space were to collaborate with the current existing retail and housing and to connect them all. In addition, the goal was to create a sense of place with inviting public spaces, variety in the design and to create what is referred to as a ‘third place’.
You have home, work…and then…the goal is to create that ‘third place’…the place where you socialize, hangout and build community.
The architect of the project explained the challenges of the topography and fitting into the current design. They used these challenges as assets by designing eight distinct plazas around the buildings which make the space much more distinct and interesting. The spaces will create places to gather with perhaps public interactive art, fountains, etc. In addition, there is no ‘back of house’ to the buildings.
The main entrance to the development will be from Baker Rd. This was designed to address concerns residents have about the current entrance in and out of Chevron. From San Elijo Rd., there will only be an entrance (no exit) to the parking lot.
The buildings on the south side facing San Elijo Rd. are pushed back creating a 25-foot sidewalk with interior frontage and the buildings are turned at an angle so it doesn’t feel like a row of buildings.
The architect provided a ‘fly-through’ of the project renderings. They really worked hard to incorporate all of our community’s concerns – wanting more retail and less residential than the original plan, wanting places to gather, more eateries, etc.
The building designs are a mix of both historic and contemporary design. There is a total of about 33,000 square feet of commercial space with 74 parking spaces.
The townhomes will have rooftop decks and also 3-car garages. They were designed to complement and tie-in to the design of the townhomes across the street.
An additional 7500 square foot building is proposed next to Café Stoked as well as a smaller 2500 square foot commercial space at the top of the triangular lot heading toward Schoolhouse Way.
Ultimately, the project is designed to complete the master plan – to deliver on the walkability of the community and having everything you need close by.
So, what’s next?
The purpose of the meeting was to gauge community support and to get any additional ideas and input from residents. The next step will be to put together plans for City approval. The City, San Elijo Hills Development and Ambient Communities are all motivated to see the project move quickly. If all goes smoothly, they hope to move quickly with construction beginning early next year. The project will take less than one year to complete and it may be done in phases (with the property next to Café Stoked and in the triangle behind it in a later phase).
Residents had the opportunity express questions and concerns. Here were a few of those as well as the answers.
Why more townhomes?
It is expensive to build non-linear retail and the project requires the subsidy of the residential for the financials to work. Residential has always been a part of the master plan and the current proposal reduces the number of originally proposed residential.
Traffic & parking
Residents also expressed clearly the concerns we have about traffic and parking – both long-term and during construction. The project will be working closely with the City to keep any lane closures to non-peak traffic times. And, most of the construction traffic will be contained within the project itself during construction.
Who will the tenants be?
What tenants will occupy the buildings? Obviously, it’s too early for anyone to know, but Ambient Communities had just come from ICSC in Las Vegas where they received strong interest from what they hope will be a mix of both national tenants and ‘sexy local restaurants’. They hope to see a mix of perhaps 1-2 larger restaurants and several smaller fast casual eateries. And, perhaps a smaller fitness studio like a Core Fitness or Orange Theory-type of setup.
Residents also expressed the need for professional suites, places that appeal to teens and keeping a small town feel.
What to do next?
At the end of the meeting, residents were very eager to see the project move forward. Participants represented a wide variety of interests and perspectives from the community — Residents who have lived in SEH since 2000. Residents who have only lived here a week. Residents with young children and others in their retirement years.
Overall, everyone seemed really excited to see the project come to fruition – and asked that the developer move on it sooner than later.
They also asked – “How can we help?”
A resident who currently serves on the Planning Commission suggested that residents attend upcoming Planning Commission meetings to ensure that we are demonstrating community support. This will help move things along more swiftly.
We will also keep you posted here on SHARE about the project as it continues to unfold.