DEL MAR — Youth soccer organizer Surf Cup Sports is seeking approval from the city of San Diego to construct a two-story sports complex on a vacant parcel at Via de la Valle and El Camino Real, adjacent to Surf Cup Sports Park.
Surf Cup submitted an application for a conditional use permit and site development permit on Sept. 29. The organization purchased the 24-acre site at 3975 Via de la Valle last spring, as it lies directly north of the sports park where Surf hosts thousands of youth soccer players each year under a lease with the city of San Diego.
The application proposes a 48,000-square-foot multi-purpose building containing basketball and indoor volleyball courts, locker rooms, a lounge, and offices, along with two outdoor soccer fields, 17 pickleball courts, and around 340 parking spaces.
Officials with Atlantis Group Land Use Consultants, a firm working with Surf Cup on the project, said the development’s size will be less apparent since the land is at the bottom of a valley.
“The project site is substantially below the Via de La Valle roadbed, so it will visually read as more of a one-story building,” said Atlantis Principal Environmental Consultant Anna McPherson.
The parcel falls into the city’s AR-1-1 agriculture and residential zone, which permits open space uses including active and passive recreation, agriculture and natural resource preservation. Atlantis acknowledged that the site is “complex” due to its wetland habitat, which has posed challenges for the land’s former owner, Milan Capital Management.
Before selling the land to Surf, Milan Capital spent eight years trying to move forward with plans for a 150-unit intermediate care facility called Hacienda Del Mar. However, environmental concerns and water infrastructure issues posed significant obstacles, leading Milan to throw in the towel.
McPherson said the development will be limited to the eastern portion of the site to protect environmentally sensitive wetland areas to the west.
“Approximately [four] acres on the western portion of the site (minus the right of way for the realignment of El Camino Real) are proposed to be preserved, enhanced, or restored as wetlands to mitigate for ESL impacts,” she said.
Surf Cup itself has found itself in hot water for its treatment of the wetland habitat in the past. Earlier this year, the organization was cited by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board for illegally redirecting stormwater from the site, which pooled as a result of heavy rains last winter, and violating the Clean Water Act.
Surf officials did not respond to requests for comment about the project. However, CEO Brian Enge said last year that Surf purchased the land with the intent of expanding its mission of providing youth sports opportunities.
Concerns early on
The project is already raising concerns for residents who received a notice about the application on Nov. 21, particularly because Surf is currently in the midst of a legal battle over its activities at the sports park.
In a suit filed in April, the Fairbanks Polo Club HOA, made up of residents living near the park, accused the City of San Diego of failing to crack down on what they say are excessive operations at the fields that are prohibited in the grant deed for the land.
The HOA said Surf’s frequent large tournaments violate the grant deed’s yearly 25-day limit on events and restriction of operations to “passive, non-commercial uses.” Surf has pushed back, stating that the suit seeks to severely limit their activities.
Resident Jeff Carmel said it is presumptuous of Surf to pursue this development while they are facing the lawsuit.
“There’s a lawsuit against the City of San Diego seeking to enforce the grant deed’s restriction on the use of the former polo fields to 25 days a year, while at the same time, a youth sports and event megabusiness whose very existence is predicated on the continued, unrestricted use of those fields, proposes to build a massive sports facility adjacent to the fields. On sensitive wetlands, no less,” Carmel said.
The San Dieguito Planning Group, which oversees the unincorporated area near Surf Cup Sports Park, has also expressed concerns.
Chair Doug Dill emphasized that the city should first focus on completing the El Camino Real Bridge/Road Widening Project, which proposes multiple infrastructure improvements, including widening El Camino Real onto the western portion of the Del Mar polo fields parcel and the 3975 Via de la Valle site.
In a Dec. 14 email to the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the road project, Dill said he is worried about Surf trying to circumvent these plans.
“The community has waited years for the expansion and widening of the El Camino Real road and bridge project to ease the traffic congestion through this area. This vital infrastructure improvement must be completed before any additional development on this corner is even considered, and not delayed or impeded in any way by a potential new sports complex because the new road segment crosses the west side of that property,” Dill said.
McPherson said the application for the sports complex accounts for the planned realignment and widening of El Camino Real and the Via de la Valle improvements on the site, and that the project team has met with the city’s engineering and capital projects on the matter.
The application for the sports complex project is still under city review.