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Who wouldn't like to have an In-N-Out Drive-Thru just steps from their front doors? Residents of Pacific Bluffs Condominiums in Clairemont, that's who.

A group of residents in Clairemont are fighting a proposal from Regency Centers, the new owner of the 186,000 square-foot Balboa Mesa Shopping Center, to change the zoning designation on a portion of their lot so they can build an In-N-Out Restaurant.

The problem; the restaurant would be just a mere 173-feet away from Pacific Bluffs, a 268-unit condominium complex located at the corner of Balboa and Genesee Avenues. If approved, dozens of homeowners would be within earshot of a drive-thru that would stay open until 1:30 in the morning.

Currently, the site holds two land-use designations.

The majority of the land is tagged as Community Commercial (CC), that's where most of the retail outlets are located and where additional retail space will go.

And then there's the small sliver of land on the western portion of the parcel. That area faces the Pacific Bluffs Complex and has a Community Neighborhood land-use designation. The CN zone prohibits alcohol-related businesses, live-entertainment venues, and, of course, drive-thru restaurants.

"We would love to see development take place and new businesses come to Balboa Mesa," says Michael Puente, a Pacific Bluffs resident. "We are just against this one thing: Changes to the protective zoning, that would allow a busy drive thru, open until 1:30 in the morning just about a hundred of feet from our bedrooms."

The residents have started a website to fight changing the zones. Puente estimates that over 300 people have signed a petition to keep the current zone intact.

"[The developer's] comments and the [$60 million] price paid reflect the property as it is currently zoned," reads the Care About Clairemont website.

"It simply does not make sense for them NOT to develop it. However, every business operates with the goal of maximizing their profits. So if they can rezone the property and make more money, then naturally they would try to do so. Of course, as they neither live in the community, nor have the community’s long-term goals as part of their business goals, it does not make sense for us to look to Regency Centers for guidance on our community zoning."

The developer hasn't been sitting idly by while opposition from the community continues to mount. Earlier this year Regency Centers hired local land-use lobbyist firm Southwest Strategies to get support for the project in the community and at City Hall. According to economic disclosures filed with the City Clerk, the firm was quick to begin lobbying on behalf of Regency Centers.

They argued that the area where the restaurant would go was smack dab in the "core" of Clairemont and the zoning changing would fall in line with the Community Plan.

Judging by the votes taken by the local planning group, the strategy from Southwest Strategies seems to be working.

In November, members of the Clairemont Community Planning Group voted against making any changes to the zoning. Four months later, the planning group flipped, voting 9-to-2 in favor of amending the zoning designation.

Chris Wahl, president of Southwest Strategies, says the Regency Centers is and has been more than willing to work with nearby residents.

"Regency Centers has made numerous improvements to the project to minimize community concerns," Wahl wrote in a June 6 email.

"They agreed to push the drive thru portion of the building further from the street, added substantial landscaping and screening, and removed In-N-Out signage facing the closest homeowners, redirecting the speaker box away from the homeowners, and enclosing the pick-up window area with glass to minimize sound. All of these improvements were made after the Community Planning Group overwhelmingly voted in favor of the project."

As to the suggestion by some residents to move the restaurant to another area, Wahl says that other tenants have already signed on and that plans are already in place for the rest of the site.

The city lobbyist claims that while there are some residents who oppose the In-N-Out, there are plenty of supporters as well: "350 support cards have been signed in favor of the In-N-Out burger by individuals who live in the Clairemont Mesa community."

Residents of Pacific Bluffs and their allies will continue to fight the development all the way to the City Council.

"This isn't a fight against new development, it's a fight to preserve our quality of life," says Puente. "We want a more walk-able. bike-able, live-able Clairemont."

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nostalgic June 5, 2013 @ 3:37 p.m.

How many members of the Community Planning Group work for Regency Centers? And when were the Planning Board elections? A changing of the guard, perhaps. Just wondered.


Dorian Hargrove June 5, 2013 @ 3:54 p.m.

Nostalgic, Elections were conducted one month after the second vote. I am not sure how many of those already on the committee work for Regency. I will try and find that out. Thanks --dh


theopiner June 5, 2013 @ 3:45 p.m.

I have very little sympathy for the condo owners. I also live near this Vons/Kohls/CVS center and the busy intersection of Balboa/Genesee, both of which were here long before the condos were built. They knew that this was not a serene location when they bought there. This is like the people of Point Loma who bought in the Lindbergh Field flight path then complain about the jet noise. I look forward to patronizing a new In-And-Out.


Dorian Hargrove June 5, 2013 @ 4:01 p.m.

I've been told that the Pacific Bluffs Condos were built in 1965. I am not sure when the shopping center was developed. As for Point Loma, it is different in that the runway was there. Being so close to this busy intersection, it is fair to say that an In-N-Out would increase traffic and noise. Those impacts would probably need to be addressed before any zoning changes can take place. Thanks --dh


ClairemontFan June 5, 2013 @ 4:28 p.m.

I've been to Clairemont Planning Group meetings. I don't think any board member specifically works for Regency. The problem I saw was that "planning" wasn't really discussed. Why do we change zoning in our community? If zoning is part of the "plan" for our community, shouldn't there at least be a reason to remove a zone? If the current CN zone allows commercial development and the community (including neighbors across the street) WANT redevelopment, why not simply put in a commercial business that fits the zone? Seems pretty straight forward.


ILOVEClairemont June 5, 2013 @ 4:52 p.m.

Yes, Pacific Bluffs was the first HOA in San Diego, est. 1965 and pre-dates the Balboa Mesa Shopping Center which was built in the early 1970's. I'm pro-redevelopment but I agree with ClairemontFan that planning must be part of the equation. What type of future do we want in Clairemont? So move the damn restaurant back out of the restricted zone.


lynnclairemont June 5, 2013 @ 5:06 p.m.

I understand and agree with what theopiner is saying with the airport analogy but this is not the same situation. The Pacific Bluffs townhomes were built well before the shopping center. I know this for certain, I've seen the city files. The dual zoning was put in place when they began to develop that center. The small CN zoning along Genesee Ave was put in place to protect the residents against disruptive business types. There are only a few business that are restricted such as drive thru/ins, hard liquor sales and music venues. While we all like a good fast food burger, it is not in the best interest of a community to change protective zoning at the expense of the quality of the lives of it residents. We should be looking at raising the quality of life not lessening. This issue is bigger than a burger choice. Thank you for listening to my perspective.


Burwell June 5, 2013 @ 5:47 p.m.

Pacific Bluffs was in fact built in 1965. I used to walk through the condos on the weekends when they were under construction. Mayor Pete Wilson and his wife owned a condo at Pacific Bluffs. Balboa Mesa Shopping Center opened in 1969. It was anchored by W.T Grant's, a large discount department store. Grant's did not survive the Arab Oil Embargo and went out of business in 1973. The store sat vacant for some years before Mervyn's moved in around 1977-78.


ILOVEClairemont June 5, 2013 @ 6:25 p.m.

Yeah, I've heard Mayor Pete Wilson used to live in the Bluffs. I heard Bob Wilson, Congressman live in the Bluffs as well.


Signore June 5, 2013 @ 6:24 p.m.

This project is ill advised. It really detracts from the walk-ability & bike-ability of the neighborhood. It also will create chaos with long lines of cars spilling out to the major, busy intersection of Genessee & Balboa. It is already somewhat difficult to drive through this area because of so many cars pulling in and out of driveways- adding this drive-through will make it worse. I strongly oppose this plan.


ClairemontVlad June 5, 2013 @ 6:40 p.m.

My family and I live very close to the Balboa Mesa Shopping Center, which has been in dire need of renovation for some time. For too long, the center has been a run-down eyesore with a terribly designed parking lot. However, the center has been zoned exactly as it should be. Having a drive-thru restaurant, open late, in that exact space, will greatly increase traffic at an already busy intersection. This type of business is incompatible with neighborhood life, and with such a large center, there must be a better place to build an In-N-Out Burger! We look forward to being able to walk to the center for meals and shopping, but are concerned about the long lines of cars trying to get through the drive-thru which are inevitable at every In-N-Out Burger I have ever eaten at, or even driven past. It seems that there must be another business or restaurant (which conforms to the current zoning) that can be located in that spot?


CausticCatalyst June 6, 2013 @ 12:40 a.m.

Do you guys realistically think a $5 billion corporation is going to have to play by the same rules as the rest of us? They're more like 'zoning suggestions' when you can afford your own PR firm/Lobbyist.


ThinkAboutIt June 6, 2013 @ 9:59 a.m.

If the current owners purchased after 1969, then whether the center or the condos were built first is a moot point. The owners purchased knowing they were adjacent to a shopping center and should be happy someone actually wants to invest considering the market the last few years. Having a nearby In n Out will benefit the residents since there are no good food options in that area and people want to live near places they like to eat. This is an opportunity to increase sales and rental value.


ILOVEClairemont June 8, 2013 @ 8:44 a.m.

I appreciate your points, ThinkAboutIt. But I'm not so sure I agree about "no good food options." We have El Portal, Quiznos, Panara, Varartas, Boston Market, Starbucks, Honey Baked Hams, Taco Bell, Mc Donalads, Jack in the Box, Balboa Pollo Loco, Balboa Market and the list goes on.......


seantpainter June 6, 2013 @ 10:21 a.m.

I love In & Out. But I would not want 104 feet away from me. The smell and noise would be annoying. Keep the zoning the way it is. Tell In and Out to go somewhere else.


sh30joy June 6, 2013 @ 2:03 p.m.

The real issue here to me is that a large developer - spending who knows how much on a "land-use lobbyist firm" - is framing the debate about zoning in Clairemont. Those decisions should be made by the people living in the area, not big corporations.


cmiller June 6, 2013 @ 7 p.m.

Hi, Thanks for so many responses about this issue Claremont is facing. Your concern is much appreciated. I absolutely love inn and out! And hope to see one built near us. Just not on that strip of land. My family lives in the pacific bluffs. We purchased our condo around seven years ago. We Have a very sick daughter who's illness is greatly effected by lack of sleep. When we purchased the condo across the street, from balboa mesa shopping center, We felt secure from late night drive through's and bright lights That can effect her, and others. Specifically Because of the Zoning laws, protecting the little strip of land across from our condos. My husband and I believed (as it was disclosed to us upon buying our condo.)That the zoning law was put in place to protect us. Our other child attended the horizon Jr/Sr high school on Mt Alifan/Genesee The children walk to and from the school every day. Extra traffic puts them at risk. There are no crossing guards and while they are teens they wear headphones, ride skate boards and bike ride to and from school. I don't have the big guns or money to make this a fare fight. But we do have you guys and I thank you so very much for your time, compassion and comments.


Hughlovesclairemont June 6, 2013 @ 8:54 p.m.

I'm all for the revitialization and beautification at Balboa Mesa Shopping Center, but not at the cost of rezoning. If we rezone, everyone in the City of San Diego loses.


Burwell June 8, 2013 @ 7:20 p.m.

In-In-Out is a malignant business that brings out the worst in people. I refuse to eat there any more because of the things I have witnessed. Large numbers of extremely angry drivers circling the parking lot in a rampage because they can't find parking because of the crowding, lacking the maturity to simply leave and eat somewhere else. One time I saw Joe Six Pack in a rage stop his car in the entrance to an In-N-Out parking lot, blocking the entrance while he went in to order his food. Another time, I saw a driver frustrated by a long line at the drive through roll up his windows and lay on the horn until he received his food. I have also seen a tractor trailer truck pull into a parking lot and take out 15 parking spaces. In-N-Out needs to install horizontal steel bars at the entrances to prevent trucks from entering, and stop encouraging truck drivers to eat there. What tore it for me was the parking situation at the local In-N-Out at lunch time. I would go there and find 10 UPS trucks taking up the entire lot while frustrated customers were leaving in droves because they could not find parking. IN-N-OUT: GET RID OF THE TRUCKS AND RAISE YOUR PRICES TO CUT DOWN ON THE CROWDS! YOUR STORES ARE NOT EQUIPPED TO HANDLE THE LARGE CROWDS YOUR LOW PRICES ATTRACT.


PBluffsResident June 9, 2013 @ 5:43 p.m.

I am in favor of keeping the current zoning (not changing the CN zone) in order to protect the important buffer zone between the residences and the shopping center. The issue is not how long residents of Pacific Bluffs have lived in the neighborhood. The reason we have zoning laws is to protect neighborhoods. Obviously residents move in and out of neighborhoods. The point is to maintain the quality of the neighborhood. I think the shopping center can thrive within the current zoning parameters. No change is needed to the zoning in order for the shopping center to improve and make renovations. Businesses can be successful without negatively impacting the neighborhood. We would like to walk and bike through our neighborhood including to the shopping centers. Making neighborhoods/communities more walkable is the trend for future planning and should be a priority here. I think the shopping center will see more success by living within the zoning parameters including the CN zone. Please DO NOT change the CN zone which is an important protection for our neighborhood.


ClairemontRes July 17, 2013 @ 12:02 p.m.

I don't know why they could not put the In & Out in the middle of the shopping center where the Baskin Robbins is. They would be in the proper zone and would be able to have easier drive through with less congestion to the intersection. Put a traditional sit down family style restaurant at the corner.


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