Garrett Harris 4:56 p.m., Feb. 19
Clairemont residents fight against zoning amendment needed for popular fast-food burger joint 173-feet from nearby homes
Regency Centers wants land-use changes to put an In-N-Out Burger close to homes.
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 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."