ENCINITAS , For Brent Jacobs, senior vice president at Burnham Real Estate Services of San Diego, a leasing agent, the past several months have been very busy ones in meeting prospective tenants for the proposed Paul Ecke Agricultural Research Park in this city.
Already, Akkadix Inc. of San Diego has signed a letter of intent to lease 25,000 square feet at the Ecke facility. The agricultural biotechnology company uses gene discovery techniques and combinatory chemistry to discover new agricultural products.
Jacobs said he has been directly marketing the property to biotech companies across the country through a databank his company owns and through cooperating brokers.
The interest in the property is characteristic of the market for biotech facilities here in recent months, he said.
“We have been on fire for the last year with business,” Jacobs said. “In the last 90 days, things have hit overdrive.
“You’ve got companies here that have recently gone public and done extremely well, and it translates into larger laboratory needs,” Jacobs said.
He added that large pharmaceutical companies, such as Merck & Co., Inc. of Whitehouse Station, N.J., are also locating facilities in San Diego County. The purchase of such local companies as CombiChem Inc. by Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich., also promises to make laboratory facilities in great demand, he added.
“You’re going to see more square footage of lab space absorbed in the next 60 days than you see absorbed in Torrey Pines in a year,” Jacobs predicted.
To Jim Ferguson, vice president of McGraw/Baldwin Architects Inc. of San Diego, the design of the Ecke facility presented some interesting problems.
“The biggest challenge was to incorporate the buildings within the rural setting of the area as well as to incorporate high-tech features to really express this as a state-of-the-art set of facilities,” Ferguson said.
“We’re doing that with land forming, setting the buildings into the land forms and by landscaping with indigenous plants.”
The first building to be put up will be a modern-style, 50,000-square-foot, two-story facility with a multifaceted exterior done in earth tones, Ferguson said.
The interior support column spacing of the building needed to be designed in such a way to accommodate laboratories, and the building also has areas set aside for future heating and air-conditioning facilities used with the laboratories, he said.
Part of the site will be developed with greenhouses, and there will be greenhouse windows in the laboratory buildings as well.
Ferguson said his company has designed several million square feet of biotechnology buildings in Southern California. Lately, there has been a great deal of interest by the companies in new, bigger facilities, he said.
“It seems like the biotechnology industry is really taking off, especially those companies nearing approval for certain drugs,” Ferguson said.
The Ecke facility is the first local research facility specifically designed for agricultural biotechnology companies and is nearing a crucial government hearing soon, the developers said.
Carltas Development Co. of Carlsbad and its owners, the poinsettia-growing Ecke family, have proposed building the 125,000-square-foot research facility on 10 acres adjacent to their ranch.
Because the project involves a use that is different than those allowed for the agriculturally zoned land, the project requires a major use permit, said Tom Curriden, senior planner for the city of Encinitas.
The Encinitas Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the permit March 30, said John White, president of Carltas Development. If the planning commission approves the project, the proposed major use permit goes on to the Encinitas City Council for a final decision, White said.
One neighbor has reservations about the impact traffic will have on an access road and said he will voice his concerns to the planning commission.
“There is one access street, Saxony Road, that is a two-lane street and it really is not an improved street with curbs and gutters,” said Gene Chapo, who lives on Union Street near the Ecke property.
“It doesn’t have the capacity to carry these additional daily trips and I would suggest a street widening.”
Chapo, a partner in the Solana Beach architectural firm of Chapo & Hall, said the city’s specific plan for the area allows an agricultural biotechnology research facility if it is directly involved with the Ecke growing operation.
His comments about the specific plan were confirmed by Curriden of the city of Encinitas planning department.
The proposed project will allow other companies to do business at the site, he said.
“We’re taking an area that is a residential neighborhood and we’re introducing an industrial use,” Chapo said. “This particular development could be placed anywhere on the 260 acres and a more suitable location would be on Quail Gardens Drive.”
Another official of Carltas Development Co. said that by removing all of the Ecke Ranch employee and commercial traffic from Saxony Road and shifting it over to Quail Gardens Drive, there wouldn’t be traffic flow problems.
“We’re sensitive to the concerns regarding traffic on Saxony Road,” said Chris Calkins, executive vice president of Carltas Development. “We initiated the project with a traffic study by the city’s consultant on traffic circulation matters and have confirmed that the project will not cause an increased burden on Saxony.”
White, of Carltas Development, said the development is a one-of-a-kind project for San Diego County.
“The access to I-5 and the rural environment as well as the access to greenhouses adjacent to the buildings are key to the companies we’re working with (as potential tenants),” White said.