CARLSBAD — After some deliberation and a slight revision, City Council unanimously gave La Costa Town Square the green light Aug. 18, despite protests from community members worried that the project will have them sitting longer at red lights.
The planned development will bring 284,400 square feet of shopping, with banks and two gas stations, a 55,000-square-foot multi-story office project, 64 single-family homes and a medium-density residential project to a planned residential community, which many say is already too congested.
The project would consist of “high-end” commercial development, with a public plaza, much like that of Del Mar Plaza, or the Forum, said Van Lynch, senior planner with the city of Carlsbad.
However, many of the residents who spoke out against the projects pointed out that the “high-end” shopping areas do not have large, 98,000-square-foot buildings they called “big box,” as part of the project.
Most of those who spoke to council regarding the 83-acre project, located off Rancho Santa Fe Road and La Costa Avenue, said a “regional” shopping center will bring too much noise and traffic congestion to their rapidly growing community, and that the roads are already gridlocked.
Projections are for more than 25,000 extra cars on the road, said Bruce Ehlers, a former planning commissioner with the city of Encinitas who works in Carlsbad as vice president of engineering for Linear LCC. Ehlers proposed reducing the size of the commercial project to reduce the number of projected cars on the road.
The majority of the residents who spoke also suggested the project be scaled back.
After hearing from dozens of residents from La Costa and surrounding communities who gathered at City Hall on Aug. 11, City Council postponed its decision on the proposed development, while city staff and the developer worked to make changes to the plan. The high-density housing west of Rancho Santa Fe was scaled back to medium-density, and limitations on the size of the “big box” store was set at 100,000 square feet.
The fate of the project was decided a week later, when the council unanimously approved it, by approving to amend the Master Plan and General Plan and the Environmental Impact Report, and a “statement of overriding considerations.”
According to information released by the city, “Before a project which is determined to have significant, unmitigated environmental effects can be approved, the public agency must consider and adopt a ‘statement of overriding considerations,’ The agency must explain and justify its conclusion to approve such a project and show that the general social economic or public benefit justifies its approval.”
Plans for the multifamily residential development, a low-income housing project, originally had most residents concerned. Proposed on a parcel of land just west of Rancho Santa Fe Road, it was scaled back and rezoned to medium-density instead of the high-density originally proposed for the housing project.
Councilwoman Ann Kulchin said it wasn’t fair to the neighboring community of single-family homes.
Residents also spoke of their concerns about the safety of adding that many cars to the roads where students walk to and from two nearby elementary schools and the high school. City traffic engineers said that the standards are set at “peak hours,” and that although the traffic may “fail” at certain times of day, schools are not typically looked at in an EIR.
“I understand what they are telling me,” said Mayor Bud Lewis, at one point, giving the opponents hope. “And it just doesn’t jive … I have great concern about the traffic flow.”
However, in the end, Lewis said the city staff spent a lot of time on the project and that in his years of experience he has found that “manipulating things” never works.
Although Lynch addressed questions regarding traffic congestion, and impacts such as the lights from the parking lot, as well as the noise and dirt from the construction, he concluded that some impacts will exist. Some additional blasting will be needed to move the large amounts of hard clay soil needed to level the lot, he said, but not like previous blasting done during the expansion of Rancho Santa Fe Road.
After the vote, members of group North County Advocates said the issues with the EIR and the impact the project will have on the surrounding neighborhoods and communities have them weighing their options for future opposition.
“With big box development comes big impacts,” said Diane Nygaard of Preserve Calavera, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting natural resources in North County. “It (the project) will not meet air quality standards … people will get sick because of this project … I am sure you agree … everyone has a right to expect good air to breathe.”
Ehlers said the project will also impact the community of Olivenhain, less than a mile from the project. Olivenhain has a “dark skies policy.”
A large-scale commercial project for the area has been in the La Costa Master Plan since 1972, said the developer, Pat O’Day. Aspen Properties put an application in with the city in 2001, but has been slow to develop the property.