First Impressions: Protea Properties Project on Clairemont Drive

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Service for the Mid-Coast Trolley is scheduled to begin in late 2021 when 3 stations will open in the Clairemont community at Tecolote Road, Clairemont Drive, and Balboa Avenue.

Many have been eagerly anticipating what will happen on the property at the foot of Clairemont Drive at the corner of Morena Blvd. and Ingulf Street. This site will be directly across Morena Blvd. from the Clairemont Drive Trolley Station. It is temporarily being utilized as the Mid-Coast Trolley’s construction lay-down yard. The community has long hoped that something positive will happen at this key location, ever since the popular JR’s Restaurant and other businesses closed so many years ago.

In 2016, the new owner Protea Properties introduced themselves to the community under a large tent on the site. At that time, they wanted to meet locals and to listen to their input. Protea didn’t have much to share at that time other than a desire to work with the community, and stated their intention to make a long-term investment in Clairemont. Their commitment was to build a visually appealing and quality “gateway” project that all would be proud of for decades to come.

Since that time, Protea has been working on many design ideas. One of their early outreach efforts included asking neighbors and other community members for feedback. More recent efforts included three invited focus groups of approximately six people each, assembled by Glen Schmidt, Jim Elko, and James LaMattery. Glen’s group and Jim Elko’s group met with the Protea team separately several weeks ago, and the following describes their experience:

Arriving at the La Jolla offices of Protea Properties, we found a professional yet casual corporate environment. The relaxed setting seemed to reflect the demeanor of firm’s founder, Jeffrey Essakow, which was friendly, approachable, and authentic. We discovered Jeffrey has had a successful track record of encouraging community input and incorporating some of those ideas into the final project. An example of this is upgrades to Del Mar’s Flower Hill Promenade where Protea designed a family-friendly environment and created a venue for community events. Del Mar residents were initially skeptical, but gave rave reviews once the Flower Hill re-do was completed.

Back to our meeting with the Protea team. We listened to Jeffrey and his development team describe their ideas while showing some drawings for the site. They showed us a mixed-use project with apartments, offices, and retail. The concept allows for neighbors and on-site residents to work-live-play locally, while being just across the street from the Clairemont Drive Trolley Station. The Protea site will also have 150 Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTS) parking spaces for commuters in accordance with their agreement with SANDAG. There will also be additional parking for the mixed-use project.

The Protea team envisions creating an exciting destination, as well as incorporating elements unique to our Clairemont community character. During the meeting, Jeffrey frequently asked, “What would you like to see built here?” Among the answers were “cool and unique places” for locals to walk to for coffee, a meal, meeting friends, or simply relaxing with a book in a nice courtyard. The retail offerings are not yet determined, but plans are to include a small specialty market in the mix. Though the building sketches were not set in stone, the focus group members’ impressions were positive.

The development will be angled and terraced so as not to crowd bordering streets, nor look like a big box. A large courtyard will serve as a public gathering place and the structures will be articulated for visual interest. The development will not be under 30-feet, which has been a hot topic for our community. It is uncertain how buildings might affect views but we hope any impacts will be minimal. We also learned that the existing site topography has more than a 20-foot elevation change from Morena looking up the hill eastward.

Overall, everyone who participated was favorably impressed with Protea’s goals, preliminary design, and sensitivity to our community’s desires.  Final designs will need to be studied and issues remain such as addressing pedestrian/bike safety and traffic flow. We are looking forward to seeing more detailed plans that everyone in the community can weigh-in on. And, we understand that opportunity will be coming very soon.

Jim Elko (Clairemont resident and leadership team member for Housing the Next 1 Million)

Glen Schmidt (Clairemont resident, landscape architect, and member of Clairemont Planning Group. Glen is not a consultant for the Protea project and has no financial connection to it.)

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