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Voted down four years ago

Downsized masterplanned community resurrected as others already underway

Voted down by the San Diego Board of Supervisors four years ago, the Merriam Mountains plan is being resurrected, this time with fewer housing units -- and two other masterplanned developments in the county are underway.

Newland's Merriam Mountains proposal, north of Escondido; The Corky McMillin Cos.' Millenia development in Chula Vista; and Sea Breeze Properties' North City project in San Marcos were showcased during an Urban Land Institute of San Diego/Tijuana-sponsored session Tuesday at the University Club.

"With the shortage of large parcels of land, and a cultural shift to the urban environment, the face of masterplanning is changing," ULI wrote.

Rita Brandin a Newland senior vice president and development director, said Merriam Mountains plans -- which are subject to change -- call for 2,048 housing units of various types, along with 80,000 to 90,000 square feet of retail and a site for a charter school. Previously, 2,630 units were proposed.

The new plans, which the county of San Diego will see in August, call for about 60 percent of the property to be left in permanent open space, with trails winding through the development.

The challenge Newland faced is not only the plan having more than 2,000 proposed units, but the property being downzoned when the Board of Supervisors took up the unincorporated area's general plan amendment in 2011.

The current allowable density for the 2,300 acres was slashed. "We were downzoned to 82 units," Brandin said.

Brandin said she is hoping that some portions of the land that were originally planned for office and industrial development might be converted into residential, along with more density -- which could be realized with a general plan amendment.

Brandin -- who noted that that Newland will team up with Sekisui House, Japan's largest homebuilder, as its equity partner on the Merriam Mountains project -- said even if all goes according to plan, it still could be 2020 before the residential units are built.

"We look at this development as one with families with kids," Brandin said, adding that Merriam Mountains could also be home to baby boomers who might want to downsize their square-footage.

During its 45-year history, San Diego-based Newland has masterplanned more than 185,000 residential lots that were purchased by merchant builders, along with developing infrastructure for more than 20 million square feet of office industrial and retail space.

Sea Breeze's North City project in San Marcos has seen 600 student housing units completed, with another 200 either under construction or planned for the near future in proximity to the California State University San Marcos.

A total of 2,600 housing units of various types are planned at North City, in addition to the student housing units.

Levitt said while plans are subject to change, as much as 1 million square feet of office space could be developed.

"We're going to have the office park of the future, right across the street from Cal State San Marcos," said Gary Levitt, Sea Breeze Properties president.

Levitt said North City will also have about 20,000 square feet of retail accompanying the housing located within walking distance of the university.

"People shouldn't have to get in a car," Levitt said.

Levitt said residential densities in his mixed-use development are about 9 units per acre, and added that "the biggest challenge we have is supplying enough parking."

Levitt added that it should take about 20 years before North City is completely built out.

Todd Galarneau, a Corky McMillin Cos. project manager, oversees the 210-acre Millenia development and is guiding a project with about 3,000 single-family and multifamily units that also calls for 3.4 million square feet of office, industrial and retail space.

"The key to our success will be to bring employment to our buildings," he said.

Galarneau said vertical housing construction at Millenia should start in two or three months.

"I view this development as transitioning from a suburban to an urban environment," Galarneau said.

Tim Sullivan, practice leader at the residential research firm Meyers Group, LLC, concluded the session with a bit of advice to the masterplan developers: "You can't fall in love with the land. You have to know what your customer wants."

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