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Pacific Highlands Ranch is suburban smart growth

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For the past 10 years, Latitude 33 Planning and Engineering has been involved in the preparation and processing of the Pacific Highlands Ranch Subarea Plan, which is based upon the goals of smart growth. The overall community includes residential, commercial, employment, open space and public land uses with an emphasis on pedestrian connections and internalizing vehicle trips.

Located on the northern boundary of the city of San Diego, in the area generally known as the North City Future Urbanizing Area, the community comprises 2,650 acres and preserves nearly half of that total area (1,274 acres) as Multi-Habitat Planning Area. The community consists of mixed-use development: up to 5,180 dwelling units (with market-rate and affordable comprising 20 percent of the total); 300,000 square feet of commercial space; 700,000-square-foot employment center; 18,000-square-foot library; transit center; 100-stall park and ride; community and neighborhood parks; elementary, junior and senior high schools; and a civic use area. Additionally, the community includes 15 miles of trails for pedestrians, bicyclists and equestrians that connect neighborhoods and Pacific Highlands Ranch to the surrounding communities.

The community's core is the 33-acre Village, which includes 500 dwelling units, 300,000 square feet of commercial space, the library, a transit center and a civic use area. The concept is based on balancing the needs of both residents and employees by blending the commercial and residential uses both vertically and horizontally. With broad sidewalks, arcades and a pedestrian mall, the project emphasizes pedestrian movement while accommodating vehicular activity. Further, traffic-calming features such as on-street diagonal parking, pedestrian pop-outs and crosswalks are provided in several locations. The transit center provides easy access to public transit and emphasizes the reduction of single occupant vehicles.

Vehicles entering and exiting the community predominately utilize State Route 56, which connects Interstates 5 and 15. Since Carmel Valley Road is the major roadway through the community, vehicle-based commercial uses are located abutting Carmel Valley Road, while the less automobile intensive uses are located away from Carmel Valley Road. The typical parking solution for 300,000 square feet of commercial space is to provide several large surface parking lots surrounding the facility. However, the current Village plan, being prepared and processed by Latitude 33 for Pardee Homes, will consolidate a significant portion of the city-required parking in a multilevel structure wrapped by residential and commercial uses to conceal the parking. This reduces exposed parking areas, which lowers heat gain substantially, limits vehicle and pedestrian conflicts, and screens the parking with more attractive uses such as residential and commercial buildings.

While good design cannot force people to eschew their automobiles, it does make it easier for residents to walk to and from their daily shopping and work activities and reduces the use of cars. Efficient design can reduce our effect on the environment through increased preservation of open space and decreased use of resources. The Pacific Highlands Ranch plan encourages pedestrian movement, open space preservation and stewardship of natural resources. Further, the density of the Village provides a mix of residential, commercial and civic uses that foster a sense of community, a more efficient use of land resources and emphasizes the pedestrian over the automobile.

Submitted by Theodore Shaw, principal of Latitude 33 Planning and Engineering

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