A $450 million project designed to become the downtown that Valley Center lacks with a commercial center and 632 homes passed a key milestone in January with the opening of a 2.6-acre park and a community center.
Under construction on a former dairy farm at the northeast corner of Valley Center Road and Mira de Valle, about 40% of the homes in Park Circle have been sold with construction soon to start on Park Commons Retail Center, which will cover about 4.6 acres of the 186-acre site, said Kerry Garza, president of Touchstone Communities, the developer of Park Circle.
“We hope to get the whole retail center done by the end of next year, if not early 2024,” Garza said.
Garza said the commercial center in Park Circle will include retail shops, a grocery store and restaurants – giving Valley Center residents somewhere closer than Escondido to do their shopping.
“Our small little retail center will give them an option to not drive 20 miles to get a meal or a loaf of bread. They’ll have a placed to shop and dine and meet with friends and stay in Valley Center,” Garza said. “In Valley Center, there is very, very limited shopping and dining. The community is starving for restaurants so we made a focused effort to bring what they wanted – restaurants and boutique stores.”
Delores “Dee” Chavez Harmes, who chairs the Valley Center Community Planning Group, said the commercial element of Park Circle is a welcome addition to Valley Center.
“It is important that we’re able to provide services in our own community to prevent people from having to drive up and down the grade.”
Valley Center’s primary connector – Valley Center Road – is a steep grade between Valley Center and Escondido to the south.
Harmes said Park Circle “is going to add to our economy.”
“Overall, it’s going to be a very good project,” Harmes said.
“Kerry’s (Garza) been a good neighbor to us. Not everyone likes everything. You’re not going to make everyone happy, but you’re going to make the majority of people happy,” Harmes said.
To some who would prefer Valley Center to remain as it is, Park Circle represents unwelcome change.
“We certainly heard the whole spectrum of opinion,” said Kevin Smith, vice chairman of the community planning group.
“There are those in the community that are very much in favor of it. They look forward to having the park and commercial area,” Smith said. “My personal opinion is I think it will be an overall benefit.”
Smith said Park Circle “will be a more concentrated set of commercial and retail than we have anyplace else,” although he wouldn’t characterize it as a traditional downtown as found in some of Valley Center’s more urban neighbors such as Escondido.
Harmes said the growth that Park Circle represents is inevitable.
“The community is going to grow. We just can’t maintain the status quo year after year. The world changes and we need to be adaptive to that,” Harmes said. “My goal is to try to accommodate the changes and keep our rural values.”
The first tenant to sign a lease for the retail center was McDonald’s, which has miffed some community members who preferred a more health-oriented option, Harmes said.
“They said, ‘why can’t we have something healthy’,” Harmes said. “It’s not our job as a planning group to determine who can and who can’t have a business in Valley Center.”
Smith said he’s “not a big fan of fast food coming to Valley Center.”
“While I may not personally go to McDonald’s, I appreciate that the corporate [staff] locally has worked with the community,” Smith said.
Architecturally, Harmes said that Park Circle “looks great,” describing the look of Park Circle as “very well thought out.”
“The project is a very nice project aesthetically and it does fit in with Valley Center as far as aesthetics,” Harmes said. “Valley Center, being a rural area, we prefer to have a little more space between our homes.”
She said the higher density of Park Circle was necessary to meet state and county housing requirements, although the development has fewer homes than Touchstone could have put on the site.
Builders with homes in Park Circle include Shea Homes, Beazer Homes, Meritage Homes, KB Home, Richmond American Homes, and Infill Development.
Infill Development is building 52 homes for low income and moderate income families. Their neighborhood is called Wildflower.
Garza said he expect that all the homes will be sold by 2023.
“We’re getting close to 300 or so homes under construction,” Garza said. “The home sales are going faster than anyone thought.”
Shea Homes has sold all 88 of the homes it built in its neighborhood in Park Circle called Summer, Garza said.
Beazer Homes is building two separate neighborhoods in Park Circle. The Porches which has 64 homes, most of which were sold by the end of January, Garza said. The company also is building Trailside, with models to open soon.
He said Meritage is building 120 homes in a neighborhood called Kyra, with the first buyers set to move in by early February.
Richmond American is building 101 homes in a neighborhood called Seasons, 27 of which were sold by late January.
Infill Development is building 52 homes that have been earmarked for low and moderate income families, Garza said.
Sundance by KB Home includes 128 homes, 77 of which were sold by late January.
A concern among long-time Valley Center residents is that newcomers moving into Park Circle could affect the rural lifestyle of Valley Center.
“We have our country values out here in Valley Center with patriotism still at the forefront and respect for people and we want to keep that,” Harmes said. “Don’t turn Valley Center into where you’re coming from. Valley Center has, I would call it an Americana approach to our community. There’s still a bit of Norman Rockwell. Where else can you have Western Days where you have your main road shut down?”
Laura Andrews and her husband bought a single-family home in Park Circle from Shea Homes and moved into their new home in December. She said the rural atmosphere of Valley Center was one of the big attractions of Park Circle.
They had been living in Escondido, were all set to buy a townhome in the Harmony Grove neighborhood of Escondido, but changed their mind when they saw Park Circle.
“We came up here and we love not just the Park Circle community itself but Valley Center as a whole. We just like the small town feel but also know it’s up and coming,” Andrews said. “For the quality of life up here and what we wanted for our kids, it’s a perfect location.”
Andrews has a 2-year-old daughter and a 3½-year-old son.
“We’re surrounded by a bunch of families. We just love that,” Andrews said. “There’s a ton of new families moving in. Every time we take a walk, we meet someone new.”
In addition to the commercial space and housing, Park Circle “is loaded with amenities because it’s a master planned community and there wasn’t much around Valley Center, so we had to bring the whole party with us,” Garza said.
Key among they will include a community center that will be Valley Center’s first large gathering place, which Touchstone has named The Hangout, and several parks.
“One of the things we’re lacking is a place to hold meetings,” Harmes said.
The Hangout, which opened in late January, is the larger of two community centers planned for Park Circle.
The development takes its name from the 2.6-acre circular park named Harvest Park at its center that also formerly opened in January.
Harvest Park has “every kind of sports thing possible,” Garza said.
“We have basketball courts and bocce ball and tot lots,” Garza said.
For now, the park is private for Park Circle residents, but Garza said Touchstone plans to turn it over to the county. “It will be open to everyone in Valley Center,” Garza said.
Harvest Park and The Hangout clubhouse will give Valley Center much-needed amenities, Harmes said.
“We do need more parks in Valley Center and the one in Park Circle is a nice addition, but it doesn’t satisfy the requirement,” Harmes said.
Smith said that he would have liked a bigger central park, but “I give them credit for establishing a park rather than paying the in lieu fees, which so many developers do.”
“In a practical sense, people have few park opportunities here in Valley Center,” Smith said.
The Park Circle site was home to Konyn Dairy which went out of business in 2008.
The recreation center, The Hangout, was designed by Erick Van Wechel of Summa Architecture of Bonsall and site amenities were designed by Tim Jachlewski of In-Site Landscape Architecture based in Liberty Station.
President: Kerry Garza
Headquarters: Mira Mesa
Business: Real estate investment and land development
Notable: Touchstone’s expertise includes acquiring, entitling, and developing master-planned communities that include attached and detached homes, retail shopping centers, office and professional buildings, apartment complexes, recreational amenities and regional infrastructure