ENCINITAS — The grand opening of the city’s newest mixed-use development downtown is within sight. According to the project’s developer, John DeWald, while residents and retailers should be arriving by early September, the official opening of Pacific Station will be in October.
As the date nears, detractors of the project seem to have quieted at Planning Commission and City Council meetings and some are hailing the $45 million development as a bellwether for a new time in the city’s future. “This is what development is moving towards, especially along transportation corridors and places where land is scarce such as the coast,” said Cynthis Seanz, an Encinitas resident who relocated from the East Coast. “Where I’m from, this is what living looks like,” she said. “You walk to transportation or work, to the market, everything.”
Opponents and city officials worried mostly about the traffic congestion that might be generated from a development in an already dense area of the city. However, DeWald said the project has taken every precaution to alleviate traffic. “Highway 101 gets about 18,000 trips per day; a large number are not Encinitas residents,” DeWald said. “With only 47 residential units, it maybe generates 400 more cars. In fact, a lot of the trips they usually would take, they aren’t now, like to the beach, grocery store and restaurants.”
“While Whole Foods might generate more traffic, we’re adding 30 percent more parking on 101,” he said. “So in the end, we’re slightly reducing the traffic.”
Nancy Nelson, owner of Common Threads in downtown on Highway 101, said she is supportive of the new development. “Change is going to happen. If you don’t manage the change it’s going to happen to you.”
The Encinitas native said that how the character of downtown is going to be shaped by the project remains to be seen. “There have been people who have had concerns about traffic resulting from Pacific Station and you’re just not going to know the full impact until it happens,” she said. Yet, Nelson remains optimistic that the project will provide benefits to the community.
DeWald said interest is high in the 47 residential units that range in price from $300,000 to $1 million. Occupying a prime 1.4-acre lot along Coast Highway 101 between E and F streets, Pacific Station provides easy access to public transportation, dinning, shopping, a new grocery store and other service-oriented businesses.
The project will certainly change the face of the downtown area but hopefully create a more cohesive atmosphere and enhance the sense of community according to DeWald. The LEED Silver-certified building is the first three-story building downtown, with environmental improvements that allow for greater efficiency.
Located a block from the city’s Coaster train station, Pacific Station will also be the first downtown structure to have an underground parking garage. The two-story, underground parking area will have 250 spaces.
While Pacific Station is a large-scale example of mixed use, other projects exist that bring work and living closer together in the downtown area. Charlie and Shelly Sougias, owners of Charlie’s Foreign Car in downtown, developed a mixed-use project more than two years ago. The Second Street building located between G and H streets encompasses two parcels that have three residential units atop three retail and office spaces. The courtyard brings the development together and gives it a community-like quality.
“We don’t plan on ever selling it,” Shelly said. “The economy has taken its toll on businesses but the residential units have always been full.” The Encinitas Chamber of Commerce leased office space in the building until it became financially untenable recently.
Despite a few setbacks, Shelly said she is a firm believer in the mixed-use concept. “I like it, I don’t want us to be another Del Mar where everything on the bottom floor (of a building) is banks and insurance companies,” she said. “Encinitas is a great place to live, I want to support it. I think it (mixed-use) just makes it a more positive downtown feel.
Shelly said the idea of having everything necessary for a quality of life within distance is a distinct advantage. “There’s more walkability and people spending money in downtown,” she said. “It’s fun, especially when you can go to 15 restaurants and they’re all good.”
According to smart growth advocates, mixed-use developments provide a host of advantages. From a city’s perspective, it can increase revenues with new retail outlets, promote a more vital commercial district for existing businesses in the area and decrease traffic and the need for additional infrastructure maintenance. Community and preservation advocates point to the village-like atmosphere that is promoted in projects like Pacific Station and the increased transportation alternatives.
“I’m hoping the trend continues and we can provide people with more housing opportunities that are environmentally sensitive and promote a better sense of community,” Seanz said.