NBC San Diego

TORREY PINES, Calif. — Relief for North County commuters could mean nightmares for some high-end residents on properties along Interstate 5 — losing their homes to make way for new freeway connectors.

As many as 30 homeowners who live on Portofino Drive, which parallels Interstate 5 immediately to the west in the Torrey Pines area, could be subject to eminent domain in a project to install two more connectors at the freeway’s interchange with state Route 56.

The connectors would allow motorists to transition directly from southbound I-5 to eastbound SR-56, and from westbound SR-56 to northbound I-5.

Currently, motorists must exit onto surface streets to reach ramps connecting the freeways in those directions. The homes have carried sales values approaching and reaching $1 million in the past year.

Now, in the wake of the housing downturn and uncertainty over how many residences might be condemned under various proposed alternatives to completing the interchange, homeowners tell NBC 7/39 they dread the idea of having to relocate.

And, they fear they wouldn’t be able to sell their properties at desirable prices — if at all — until firm decisions are made on eminent domain.

“Right now, I feel like a hostage,” said Phillip Raphael, a Portofino Drive resident and member of the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board, which advises the city on land-use and civic issues in the area.

“I feel like a hostage because I’m not able to do the things to my home that I’d like to do in order to make it more comfortable,” Raphael said. “It’s like, do I do the remodeling, or don’t I do the remodeling? The other thing is, because of the (freeway) noise level, I need to get dual-pane windows.”

The interchange-completion alternative with the greatest impact involves so-called “flyover” lanes perched on columns reaching up to 70 feet high — to residents, a visual blight that will reinforce the image of a concrete jungle rising from the panorama of Carmel Valley and Los Penasquitos Lagoon.

“It’s been a wonderful place to live,” said Bob Sulit, a World War II veteran who’s owned his home on Portofino since 1970. “Nice community, nice neighbors, easy transport. But then, as the population builds up, something’s got to give. And we’re a section that’s been sacrificed.”

The City of San Diego/CalTrans project has numerous regulatory hurdles to clear and funding questions to answer — all the while, facing political and economic pressures. A draft environmental impact report is not expected until late next year.

The Torrey Pines Community Planning Board will convene a meeting on the issues Dec. 13, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Del Mar Hills Elementary School.

NBC San Diego: http://www.nbcsandiego.com