Villas de Carmelo Opponents Stuck on Traffic
October 3, 2011
When is a highway not a highway? When it's a street—at least, according to county planning documents.
This riddle has become the focus of the latest chapter for the proposed Villas de Carmelo project on Highway 1 and Valley Way, just outside the Carmel-by-the-Sea city limits.
The county's final environmental impact report for the project suggests Highway 1 from Ocean Avenue to Carmel Valley Road should be reclassified as an urban street, and not a rural highway as the draft EIR presumed.
"This was done because that piece of the traffic report in the draft was done in error," Kevin Kane, development manager of the Villas de Carmelo developer The Widewaters Group, writes by email.
But Villas de Carmelo opponents Fred Slautterback and Tim Sanders say the classification as highway or street makes all the difference when it comes to getting approval for the 46-unit condo project, which would add an estimated 256 daily car trips to Highway 1.
Kane notes that only 25 percent of those trips, or 68 cars, are projected to head south on Highway 1 past Ocean Avenue, where traffic is most congested. "Think about that number and ask yourself if one car every 20 minutes is what 21st-Century people call a lot of traffic?" Kane asks.
Citing the county's own draft EIR, Slautterback says the section of Highway 1 bordering the proposed Villas de Carmelo project is currently operating at the worst traffic conditions possible. Kane disagrees, saying Level of Service E is one step above the worst conditions.
The final EIR recommends categorizing that stretch of Highway 1 as an "urban street," citing its lower speeds, scenic appeal, private driveway access, pedestrian concentration and signal spacing of less than 2 miles.
"Thus, by the stroke of a pen, now we have no traffic problem," Slautterback and Sanders write in an analysis of the issue.
Kane takes issue with that interpretation. "It doesn’t create any significant and unavoidable impact with regard to traffic."
Slautterback and Sanders note that lower speeds are a result of existing congestion, scenic appeal applies to the coastal highway through Big Sur, driveways are sparse on the southbound lane and absent on the northbound lane, and pedestrians are virtually nonexistent on that segment of Highway 1. They don't dispute the signal spacing.
"Another major factor contributing to the congestion is that Highway 1 south of Ocean goes from being a four-lane road to a three-lane (two northbound, one southbound) road," Kane counters. "This change also caused the state and the county to acknowledge this segment of Highway 1 had been mischaracterized."
The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the matter Oct. 11. The project also faces scrutiny over its water supply.
Editors' Note: This story was updated on Oct. 5 to add counterpoints from the developer.