Monday, February 18, 2013

Hot Button Issue: Balboa Mesa Shopping Center

As most of Clairemont knows, the Balboa Mesa center on the southeast corner of Balboa and Genesee (the Vons/Kohls center with the crazy parking lot) has been waiting a long time to be renovated. The Marie Callendars closed years ago, and the corner gas station has been gone a long time too.

Now there is a controversial plan for the "new and improved" Balboa Mesa that the owners, Regency Centers, have been showing to community groups in the area. They are also required to share the details of their plan with the Clairemont Community Planning Group because they are asking for a change in the zoning on the property to accommodate an In & Out drive through restaurant. The Planning Group meets tomorrow night at 6:30 at Live Well. The meeting is open to the public.

The following is one neighbor's opinion regarding the project:

I am a homeowner at the Pacific Bluffs complex on the southwest corner of Balboa & Genesee. Of the 286 individually owned homes in our condominium complex, 26 are on the western edge of Genesee Ave. facing east toward the Balboa Mesa shopping center.

The shopping center site currently falls within 2 construction zones: 7/8ths of the center is unrestricted Community Commercial. The other 1/8th is a rectangular area on the Western border of the shopping center, along Genesee Ave that has been zoned Commercial Neighborhood.

Commercial Neighborhood zoning prohibits only 3 things: drive-thrus, 24 hour operation and full liquor licensing. This zoning was deliberately put in place when Pacific Bluffs was being constructed in 1965, for continued protection of the lifestyle of its residents.

The out of state owner/developer of the shopping center went before the Clairemont Community Planning Group (CCPG) in December 2012 to seek a variance to the existing 1/8th zoning in order to put in a drive-thru fast food restaurant open until 1:30AM right on the very edge of the property on Genesee and directly across from our front doors.
We maintain the developer knew the zoning when he purchased in November last year, and can’t imagine why he thought this would be OK.

The Community Planning Group unanimously rejected the zone variance request 13 – 0, voting that this project was “NOT in the best interest of the residents or the community plan”.

Residents want to see development, but within the existing zoning. The architect will not budge on the plan – we’ve suggested other arrangements of the plans and alternative lessees – to no avail.

The developer and architect are now seeking a full zone change, at the City Council, to make the whole shopping center unrestricted commercial. This would be a nightmare for not just our complex of single family living, but to every residence situation in the immediate area.
The developer and architect are trying to sell this zone change on the basis that it meets the “intent” of the Community Plan – which the Community Group already told them was not so. At this month's Town Council Meeting, (among other forums they’ve presented to), they quoted out of context from the wrong Municipal Coding and the wrong Overlay Zone classification to insist they know better than the Planning Group or the neighborhood residents what the intent of the Community Plan is. They’ve listed the places they’ve presented to as ‘supporters’ of their plan. It’s sleight of hand, and it’s wrong.

The Pacific Bluffs Community wants to see improvement, but not at the expense of our home values and the enjoyment of our homes – which changing the current zoning will surely do.

Please help us keep the real intent of the community plan by telling our representatives we want to keep the existing zoning. Visit to express your support for the current zoning.

Thank you,
Rita M.
What do you think?


  1. Sounds like the developer needs to go back and figure out something that will work for the community. Parking lot layout is totally crazy, so that might be a good place to start.

  2. We at the Pacific Bluffs support development at Balboa Mesa (Vons/Kohl's) shopping center, but within the current zoning guidelines. Zoning changes are serious business for any neighborhood.

    Most of Balboa Mesa (VONS/Kohl's) property is zoned CC for Community Commercial. That means, the land owner can build almost anything and operate it 24 hours a day.

    However, a small sliver of land along Genesee Avenue on the west side, is zoned CN for Commercial Neighborhood. The CN zone acts as a buffer to protect the neighborhood from disruptive businesses. The CN zone has only three (4) restrictions:

    1) no hard alcohol sales or consumption
    2) no drive-in or drive-through restaurants
    3) no live entertainment
    4) operating hours are limited to 6am to midnight.

    We think these restrictions are both reasonable and modest. We support development that can be achieved within the existing zoning guidelines.

    The Clairemont Community Planning Group (CCPG) is an advisory committee that reviews all development withing Clairemont. They protect us from bad developent. The CCPG has already REJECTED this developer's request for a zoning variance, or exception to the zoning rules. They couldn't win playing by the rules, so now they want to change the rules by requesting a TOTAL zoning changes.

    We have tried to negotiate. They can build almost anything outside the CN zone, but they insist on zoning variances and changes to the protective CN zone.

    Neighbors, we ask for your support in protecting the CN zone buffer at the Balboa Mesa property.

  3. Oops! I meant 4 restrictions. Sorry.

  4. You mean to tell me a drive through would produce more noise than the traffic on Genesee ave?

  5. Where they want to put the drive thru on Genesee Ave would add in excess of 300 cars a day entering and exiting on Genesee, and Mt Alfin as a short cut. That figure could go much higher depending on who actually signs a lease. Anyone that drives or walks this area knows how bad that is going to be. Not to mention those of us who live 50 ft from the proposed site.

    Regarding the traffic noise, while Genesee is very busy it isn't in the Balboa Ave class and most importantly it dies off to a very tolerable level after 9pm. The rezoning would allow any business to operate 24/7 so traffic noise will certainly increase as well as all the noise from people frequenting those businesses into the wee hours of morning. That is why this small sliver of the center is zoned Commercial Neighborhood and not Commercial Community. Both are commercial zones but CN protects the neighborhood residents.

    By the way the vast majority of the center is zoned to allow a drive thru, and would locate it where its impacts would be better tolerated. The owners just need to send the architect back to the drawing board. It is very doable. Hope this helps explain some of our concerns.


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