"So, is it affordable then?" someone asked Jim Rivard of SRM Development. "No," Rivard uttered curtly. The room erupted into laughter.
What Rivard was referring to was the posh senior residential care facility he wants to build where horses currently call home. Chad Harris, owner of Seabreeze Farms, was at the June 22 Carmel Valley community planning board meeting. Harris said his family has owned the property for about 30 years. The horse facility was built about 15 years ago and he said it has been losing money ever since.
Carmel Valley is an affluent San Diego suburb with approximately 50,000 residents located east of Del Mar. Formed in 1975 as North City West, its original moniker was readopted in the 1990s. Carmel Valley is named for the Sisters of Mercy that had a dairy farm and monastery in the area more than a century ago.
Rivard spoke briefly about his firm and the proposed project that would take a portion of the scenic 33-acre equestrian center and build a memory care center and approximately 123 senior care units.
There would be three main structures (two to three stories) with an additional six duplex-style cottages for totally independent living at the other end of the property. Rivard said the buildings will be situated to avoid obstructing existing nearby resident views. As far as the architectural design, Rivard said that's up to the community.
Some of the open space would be retained by Harris for a significantly scaled-down facility to house around 25 retired horses versus the current 80-horse capacity.
Rivard said his firm, based in Spokane, Washington has been developing projects in San Diego, off and on, for about 15 years. Rivard said they've been active in California senior housing over the past decade and have built senior housing in San Diego.
Rivard said Carmel Valley was identified as a target market more than two years ago with the goal of allowing seniors to remain in their community instead of being shipped off to "some facility in La Mesa."
"So while it seems expensive — and it is, it can often times be more affordable than living in their home," said Rivard.
The only ask of the planning group at this early stage was to give their support in initiating the plan amendment process. They did so unanimously with some requests for Rivard's team — including to study alternative uses of the property, such as residential.
Before the Q&A began, Ken Farinsky, planning board member, said "I have horses on that property; is that a financial conflict?" Frisco White, the board's chair, asked, "Are you making any money from this?" Farinsky replied, "I'm losing money on it." No conflict, said White.
Farinsky wanted to know how much longer his horses had (probably a couple years). Others asked about traffic, parking, height, noise, and the "goofy" access to the site.
About the latter, Farinsky said the site has a single road that goes into the site with no stop sign at the end — it's just a driveway he said. He wants Rivard to look at how people will get in and out of there.
As far as parking, Rivard said, "A community like this really needs about .70 stalls per unit for residents and staff." Plans are for approximately 200 parking spaces and a shuttle service for residents to travel offsite. The consensus was that seniors don't drive.
One person asked if they might build taller than three stories. Rivard said the zoning only allows for 35 feet.
One boardmember was concerned about nearby residents being disturbed as staff come onto the late shift. Rivard said there will be little, if any, coming and going by staff at night. Some commented that the community keeps losing senior housing and horsing facilities.
Concern was expressed about what would happen to the current open space trail. Rivard said it's their intent to complete the trail and take it out farther.
Farinsky reminisced that the whole Seabreeze area started out with the idea of being a utopia for people to live near their horses but "never really turned out that way."
The board's chair, White, said he remembered Harris coming before the board about 15 years ago asking if residential would be a better use of his property because neighbors had complained about the noise and smell from the horse ranch. There was a 2003 grand jury report about this that found fault with the city in failing to clear the hurdle of the "good neighbor policy" in their handling of the project.
Even though Harris let Rivard do most of the talking, Harris is an experienced player in the world of real estate and development.
More than one boardmember stated a concern that the city would look at their approval of initiating the plan amendment process as approval of the project itself. The One Paseo project was mentioned. White had to remind everyone several times that this wasn't an approval of the project.
Rivard commented on the unusual situation saying that earlier that day the city "had a very difficult time processing it, it's not something they have walk through the door every day." Rivard's company has an option to purchase the land from Harris once it looks like a go.
Rivard's firm, SRM Development, has retained the lobbying firm Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg and Bagley to lobby the city about this project.