Concerns voiced over S. Sierra plans

Concerns voiced over S. Sierra plans
Residents voiced a number of concerns about a proposal to redevelop the Mellmo building and the city-owned parking lot on South Sierra Avenue in Solana Beach. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

SOLANA BEACH  — A proposal introduced at a May 29 workshop to redevelop a deteriorating building and the city-owned parking lot on South Sierra Avenue received less-than-enthusiastic support, primarily because it will likely increase traffic and create a need for more parking, which residents say is already in short supply in the area.

Jim Gabriel of Hanna Gabriel Wells Architects presented three “conceptual thoughts” that included a commercial/restaurant/retail-oriented complex, boutique hotel and residential development, all of which would feature “some sort of structured parking.”

The plan is to demolish and rebuild the Mellmo building at 120 Stevens Ave. The proposal would also use the adjacent distillery lot, which contains 87 parking spaces, and another lot in between the two parcels with 57 additional stalls.

The smaller lot is part of a lease agreement — established before Solana Beach became a city — that allows public parking after 5 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends and private parking the rest of the time.

That 40-year agreement expires in 2022.

Gabriel stressed the renderings are very preliminary drawings created to help garner public input on what, if any, type of project the community would support.

“This isn’t just about going in and seeing how you can rescramble the site as much as it is thinking about how … a project could be developed that would very much benefit the community and very much ultimately become an asset and an extension of the community that exists today,” Gabriel said.

“We’re not trying to force a particular path,” he added. “These were observations we had.”

“We’re really also not trying to force any kind of style right now,” Randy Hanna said. “We admire the eclectic nature of Solana Beach. … I think that’s what makes it such a great community.”

Despite their insistence the plans are nowhere close to what the final project might look like the approximately 30 residents who attended the workshop were focused on what was presented.

“Those projects look very out of place in our area,” Gerri Retman-Opper said. “It made me gasp because it looked so different than anything we have. The look of it didn’t look like anything I would image would be in town.”

“It doesn’t actually match the community,” Gary Martin said. “People come here and spend money … because there’s a reason to come here. It’s different.  … From a business perspective it’s important to maintain what we’ve got.”

“We already have one very large building sitting in the middle of the view corridor,” Peter House said. “I’m not sure we want to have a whole lot of other buildings there.”

Kelly Harless, who lives close to the proposed project area, said she has concerns about overcrowding.

“I don’t support any ideas I saw today that bring in large numbers of cars and traffic to the area,” she said. “It’s already congested. I support remodeling the building for different use but adding more structures and creating more traffic is not going to serve that area. It has to beautify the area.”

The architects said they believe the project would improve the look of the area.

“Sierra’s the pedestrian superhighway,” Gabriel said. “Every day you go through there there’s people walking on that street.”

But when you get to the project site, “it all starts to unravel,” he said. “The landscape vanishes. The sidewalks are in disarray. A place for pedestrians seems to fade away.”

Harless disagreed. “Sierra is like a freeway and now you’re talking about bringing in more traffic,” she said.

Cindy Cruz, head of the Cedros Avenue Merchants Association, and others had concerns about adding retail when some spaces are currently vacant and other shops are struggling.

“It dilutes the area,” said Cruz, who manages Leaping Lotus in the Cedros Design District. “It dilutes the businesses.”

She said there are “dead areas” along Cedros now. “If you start doing all these different divisions of different little retails here and (on) another street over here … people (won’t) walk to them. They won’t even walk all the way down Cedros sometimes.”

Vicki Cypherd is concerned about noise from a second-story restaurant resonating into nearby neighborhoods.

While many residents had individual criticisms about various aspects of the proposal, nearly all mentioned parking concerns.

“Parking is a huge issue,” Cruz said.

“Anything you do has to increase the parking … substantially,” Retman-Opper said.

“One of the biggest problems we have is parking down there,” House said. “It’s not only for the beach. It’s for the businesses. It’s for the employees. We’ve got separate groups now trying to figure out what we do with parking in that area.”

“It should be said very importantly — early on, too — that we all understand that the existing public parking … needs to remain, that whatever form of development takes place it has to accommodate, at a minimum, all the parking that’s there today, hopefully maybe even some more,” Gabriel said. “That’s kind of a given.”

Even with that assurance, residents were not placated, especially since the city would be giving up future opportunities to expand parking in the distillery lot — a structure has long been planned for the parcel — if a partnership formed.

“If all you’re going to do for us is give us what we’ve got now and another group of big buildings, I don’t think that’s a good tradeoff,” House said. “If you’re not at least going to double (the parking) then you’re not giving us much.”

City Manager David Ott said it’s not the first time the city has been approached by property owner Lomas Santa Fe Group to work together to improve the site.

He said the most recent request came because the owners feel the building is “nearing the end of its economic use.”

“It’s in need of renovation,” Ott said. “It’s in a state of disrepair inside.”

“You can do this on your own feet,” House said. “Why you’d want to take the only area … we’ve got possibly to solve our parking problem and put structures on it, I don’t know. Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Gabriel said it could go forward as two separate projects but working together could result in “something better.”

Steve Bollert, principal of BBL Commercial Real Estate, said he and the owners and architects will consider all the comments provided “and see if there is a feasible project to complete here.”

“If there’s not … we’ll redevelop and life goes on,” he said. “Change is hard. We understand that, but we’d love to make this work.”

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