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Call of the Wild: Office Project Next to 900-Acre Preserve Overcomes Vocal Criticism

Cisterra’s $250 Million Development Opposed by Sierra Club Wins Approval Vote


Plans for the three-building Preserve at Torrey Highlands include offices, an on-site cafe, fitness center and parking structure. (Cisterra Development): Costar

The San Diego City Council approved plans by Cisterra Development for a three-building, $250 million office campus in the Carmel Valley neighborhood, but the project faces resistance because of its location near a nature preserve.

By a 6-3 vote, the council approved San Diego-based Cisterra’s plans for its 420,000-square-foot campus, called The Preserve at Torrey Highlands , planned on 11 acres near state Route 56. According to plans filed with the city, the project includes a 3,850-square-foot cafe, a 5,000-square-foot fitness center and a five-story parking structure.

The plan was opposed by some local residents and groups, including the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, because of its proximity to a 900-acre nature site called Del Mar Mesa Preserve, with hiking trails and sections set aside for migrating animals. In a statement prior to the vote, the Sierra Club said the office project “places the Preserve in danger from illegal use by opening up additional paths, invasive species from landscaping, and soil disturbance from grading.”

Representatives of Cisterra have previously downsized the project from an original 450,000-square-foot footprint and offered to swap out portions of the site for other parcels of city-owned land if an appropriate site could be found.

The land for the office project was formerly owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and had originally been earmarked for a future church. The diocese sold the land to Cisterra in 2015.

Cisterra and its supporters, including the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the office project is needed to serve a growing hub of new residents along with technology firms increasingly coming to the high-demand Carmel Valley neighborhood, where Interstate 5 meets Route 56.

In a statement read during the council meeting, Sean Karafin, the chamber’s executive director of policy and economic research, said the office project is expected to provide a home to more than 2,000 innovation jobs, “adding a major employment center in an established area of the city near residential options.”

CoStar data shows Carmel Valley to be among San Diego’s most high-demand and expensive office neighborhoods, with an average monthly asking rent of $3.91 per square foot, well above the San Diego regional average of $2.71. The enclave has become increasingly popular with the legal, financial services and life sciences industries, among other sectors.

The neighborhood’s dominant office landlord is Los Angeles-based Kilroy Realty, which is now building the $650 million mixed-use One Paseo , with office, retail and apartment elements. Local brokers have noted that office space in that project has already leased in the mid-$5 per square foot range and could be heading higher in coming months.

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