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Office complex with six-story buildings proposed near Rancho Penasquitos

Updated: May 16, 2019

Community leaders, environmental groups oppose the project called The Preserve at Torrey Highlands.

Artist’s rendering of The Preserve, an office complex proposed near Rancho PenasquitosCity of San Diego documents

San Diego - An 11-acre office campus with six-story buildings proposed near Rancho Penasquitos is generating opposition among community leaders concerned the project would be too intense and generate too much traffic.

The leaders of nearby planning groups, the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Friends of Los Penasquitos Canyon plan to lobby against the project when it’s presented Thursday to the San Diego Planning Commission.

Cisterra Development, which calls the 480,000-square-foot proposed project “The Preserve at Torrey Highlands,” says it would fit well with the area’s natural topography and fill a significant void of quality office space in the area.

Supporters also say the project would be a strong complement to the adjacent Merge 56 project, a 72-acre mixed-use project that the San Diego City Council approved last May.

The Rancho Penasquitos Planning Board supported Merge 56, but it voted unanimously to oppose The Preserve at Torrey Highlands in January because it is viewed as significantly more intense.

“Traffic was a big issue as well as the scale and massing of the project,” said Thom Clark, who was chairman of the planning group at the time. “It’s too much development for most of the board members to accept.”

The vacant site, which is just south of state Route 56 near a planned road extension of Camino Del Sur, was previously slated for a church campus, including a school, that would have featured 103,000 square feet of buildings.

“A lot people in the community were weighing the two projects,” Clark said.

Instead, The Preserve would include a seven-story parking garage with nearly 1,500 spaces, a six-story office tower with 180,000 square feet of space, a five-story office tower with 150,000 square feet, and a four-story tower with 120,000 square feet.

Those buildings would surround a one-story central meeting space that would include a restaurant with a patio, a fitness center, an outdoor collaboration space and an amphitheater.

The project would also feature an overlook seating area with views of nature in nearby Deer Canyon.

To promote pedestrian circulation, there would be pathways connecting The Preserve to the restaurants and retail shops planned at Merge 56, which hasn’t moved forward yet because of an environmental lawsuit filed in August.

The Preserve’s proposed design also seeks to soften the impact of the parking garage by blending it into the surrounding topography with a combination of grading and trees.

Supporters note the project would be next to the Santa Fe Summit development, which has been completed and features four-story buildings.

The city’s development blueprint for Torrey Highlands, a mostly residential area located between Rancho Penasquitos and Carmel Valley, is to cluster most of the commercial development along state Route 56 where The Preserve would be located.

City officials have praised some of the project’s environmentally-conscious features, such as solar panels, drought-tolerant landscaping, recycled water and “cool” roofs, which are designed to reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it.

An environmental analysis conducted for the project, however, determined it would have some impacts on the surrounding area that can’t be mitigated. The site is next to a wildlife reserve called the city’s multi-habitat planning area.

The planning board voted 12-0 against the project in January. In a subsequent vote to determine whether there would be support for a scaled-down version featuring 360,000 square feet of development instead of 480,000, the board voted 11-3 against that.

By DAVID GARRICK | San Diego Union Tribune

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