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The Millenia Project

A New Downtown For Eastern Chula Vista

Last week, I spent a lot of time explaining the vast expansion taking place in eastern Chula Vista. Eleven villages total mean about 60,000 new residents will move into the area within the next twenty years. So far, villages 1, 5 and 7 are built out. Village 2 is underway. That leaves villages 3, 4, 8, 9 and 10 still under development.

According to the Otay Ranch General Development Plan, the idea of the village was to “provide a sense of community and social cohesion in a “small town” way, and reduce dependence on the automobile for local trips.” (pg. 10)

11 Villages in Otay Ranch

Today, I want to go over the heart of the development called “Millenia.” This will become the center piece of Otay Ranch plan, a new downtown with an office & retail district.

I received a tour from Todd Galarneau, Executive Vice President of Planning & Land Development for Meridian Development who explained in detail what the area will look like within the next decade. He explained that Millenia is a hybrid community: an alternative to suburban and urban neighborhoods.

What Is The Millenia Project?

Made up of 206 acres total and anticipating 2,983 multi-family housing units (no single family houses), plus 1.5 million square feet of retail and another 2 million square feet of Class A office space, what makes Millenia so unique is that developers want the infrastructure to be in place when people move in. They also want a mixed-use environment that caters to everyone: kids, families, the elderly and students.

In the past, Galarneau explains, land-use planning has either been a dense urban core or an exclusively housing environment. Millenia does something completely different from the norm. Owned by the Texas-based Stratford Land Company, Meridian Development manages the land and Meridian’s team goes out looking for builders to come into the project. Todd Galarneau has been the principal player in the development.

But first, let me go back to Eric Crockett, the Economic Development Director of the City of Chula Vista, who has also been presenting the Millenia Project, alongside the rest of the expansion, to various organizations. His power point presentation includes the following map:

Millenia Project, Chula Vista

From the map above, you can see where the boutique Ayers hotel will be located. (Marked simply “Hotel”.)

The Office District

Next to the hotel, you’ll see that “Sudberry Commercial” already has plans to develop the area into retail shops. Sudberry Properties is the same company that successfully established the Eastlake Village Marketplace as well as many other developments throughout San Diego County. They will be working on the Imperial Beach Town Center and their website has a testimonial by County Supervisor Greg Cox.

Below the hotel and Sudberry Properties, you’ll notice two large rectangles marked “Office”. Those office buildings were sold to Lee Chestnut of Chestnut Properties. Meridian contracted with him to sell 27 acres of land. As Galarneau explains, “What we’re most excited about is that a gentleman–a very successful office developer both in San Diego, Orange County and Arizona, a very entrepreneurial guy, a visionary–saw tremendous potential in the Millenia Project: Lee Chestnut with Chestnut Properties. We’ve contracted with him to sell 27 acres of land. In the first phase of his development, which is a 7 acre property, he has closed and is working with the city to develop 325,000 square feet of Class A office space. That will also include a vertically integrated city library, so the library will be the bottom floor or perhaps two floors of a four or five story office building.”

These large Class A spaces will be the “office district” within Millenia. Not only will there be a public library, but a new fire station will be constructed. The Times of San Diego reported in March that construction will soon begin. However, the question remains: who will lease the office space? So far, that’s unknown. Both the city and developers want to find Google and Intel-type companies that will bring jobs into the community. That’s the reason why bringing three hotels into the project early will be so crucial, as Eric Crockett says executives want places nearby to stay.

Galarneau explains, “What we’re really focused on is creating high quality, Class A office and good jobs in the project. Typically the market is usually residential driven or it’s commercially driven. It’s very difficult to get everything out of the ground at the same time because what you really need to do is, you need to have developers that have confidence in their ability to come in and create these projects.”

What Meridian did was hand-pick their developers. That way, Galarneau explains, developers who believe in their project, believe they will attract businesses and will have all the infrastructure prepared before people move in.

“Instead of going out to the market and just taking the highest bidders and letting them come into the project, we’re very selective in our builders. Throughout this project we found very quality builders. Early into the project we wanted to see the retail, the hotel and the office. There just really wasn’t a market for any of those land uses out there, so what we did was we went out there and identified very specific builders that we wanted to be part of our merchant builder program in Millenia. We went to them.”

Trammel Crow Will Be Millenia’s Main Street

Next to the Millenia apartments you can see a space called “Trammel Crow.” This will be the Main Street of Millenia and is a 90 million dollar project. Galarneau says “It’s going to reset the bar for rental communities in Chula Vista.” A true mixed-use environment, there will be 390 rental apartments with ground floor restaurant space built into the project. They’ll also have 12 live-work lofts on the ground floor, which will act as small office spaces. The living units will be above… They’ll activate the street by putting their leasing center, their gym, maybe their dog wash, right up on the street, so it looks like shop space.”

In addition, Trammel Crow would like to see a signature restaurant, not a chain, but something really unique to the community.

Sometime in May 2016, Chelsea Investments also will break ground on its 210-units of affordable housing. A verticle 5 story complex, it should include 127 family units and 87 senior units located right next to the Bus Rapid Transit line and next to a park.

Galarneau explains, “We’re bringing that on early in the plan. Our city entitlements wouldn’t have to have us bring that on for probably another half-dozen years, but we decided that it made sense to bring it in on as early as we could.”

The City of Chula Vista helped make the affordable housing complex a reality by putting $5 million into the project.

Parks and Schools

Millenia also boasts having an innovative park program, which they worked on with the City. Galarneau says, “Instead of building these large 10-15 acre parks, we’ve built a series of really small neighborhood parks that are highly amenitized. So instead of the normal budget, which is about 500,000 dollars an acre for improvements in the park, we’re spending about $1.2 million per acre on this park. Instead of having a grass field, we’ve got an interactive fountain, bochee ball courts, two dog parks, and outdoor plazas…. We’ve got a series of 6 of these, so if you live any place in Millenia, you can walk to a park in less than 3 minutes.”

Another school will be built in Otay Ranch. The Sweetwater Union High School district owns property right across the street from the Millenia project along Hunte Parkway. The talk was that there could end up being 7-12 and a two-story high facility. The question now is whether a) the building of schools will keep pace with the influx of residents, and b) whether bond money will be available to actually build the school or whether Mello Roos will be used.

For the latter Galarneau explains, “The mandatory state school fees only pay a portion of what is necessary to build schools. We go out and form what are called Community Facilities Districts, so it’s a public financing district that funds that school construction on a much higher level. It’s usually several times what the school fees would otherwise generate, which allows the school district – and they’ve been incredibly efficient at this – to pool those dollars.”

Traffic and Public Transportation

Probably the most optimistic component of Millenia (and possibly all the 11 villages) is the hope that people will use public transportation. Galarneau says, “When you go around San Diego County, normally how land use and distribution works is that you’ve got your residential here, you’ve got some far flung office employment center. The idea here is to really integrate those uses, put them in very close proximity and again it gives people the opportunity to walk back and forth. Get out of their cars or maybe they drive their cars here and they make multiple stops. So it pushes down on the traffic congestion pretty significantly.”

The development itself is created in such a way that planners say they will reduce traffic generation out of this project 40% over “business as usual.” Galarneau explains, “You can give people opportunities for transit, walking. You put those uses in close proximity, so maybe instead of driving to Kearny Mesa or up to mid-County to go to work, you work in the office component here. You get out at lunch and you can go to the gym or the main street, and have lunch on the main street. The idea is to get people out of their cars.”

In addition, they have a regional transit component in the project that should be operational in 2017 or 2018. Known as the BRT line, Meridian worked with SANDAG to put the Bus Rapid Transit into the first phase of their development, although it was suppose to be at least 10 years off. The Times of San Diego reported about the $113 million, 21-mile bus route in February 2016. You can see the article and their map with stops going throughout eastern Chula Vista, down to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry and up into downtown San Diego.

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series. Stay tune for next week’s assessment of the development or check out Part 1: The Great Eastern Expansion.

This article first appeared at San Diego Free Press.


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