CARLSBAD — The City Council approved staff to prepare a report on the plans submitted for the strawberry fields property on Tuesday night.
Rick Caruso, CEO of Caruso Affiliated, hopes to transform about 200 acres south of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon into a combination of open space and an upscale retail shopping center.
Caruso said he chose to do an initiative instead of going through the typical review process to give council and the community direct control over the process.
Three Carlsbad residents, former Planning Commissioner Bill Dominquez, Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation Chairwoman Maureen Simons and former Carlsbad Chamber CEO Carlton Lund submitted a citizen led initiative to the city last week.
The initiative is an alternative to the typical planning process.
The council approved city staff to get a jump start on the 9212 report, which is a California law that gives cities 30 days to review a plan after the necessary signatures are gathered.
Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio said the Environmental Impact Report submitted by Caruso Affiliated is more than 4,000 pages, which will require more than 30 days to review.
The citizen led initiative, which will get a title within the next week, will need signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in order to get on the next ballot in June 2016 or signatures from 15 percent of the registered voters to hold a special election.
Caruso Affiliated has six months to gather the signatures and will then submit them to the City Clerk for verification.
All of the signatures must be from registered Carlsbad voters.
If enough signatures are gathered, the council will have the option of approving the project without putting it on the ballot.
Caruso developed The Grove and The Americana shopping centers in L.A. and hopes to develop a Carlsbad-specific retail center on about 27 acres off Cannon Road.
If the initiative passes, the rest of the 176 acres will be designated as permanent open space, with the revenue from the shopping center funding accessibility upgrades.
Currently, the acreage south of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon isn’t accessible to the public.
After meeting with more than 4,000 residents, Caruso and his team realized the importance residents put on outdoor recreation.
He plans to install trails, an outdoor amphitheater, park benches, picnic areas and an educational resource area for local students.
Caruso is under contract with SDG&E to purchase the land.
The initiative process, including a possible special election does not require the developer to fund the process, however Caruso told the council Tuesday he does plan on funding it.
He said the plans comply with Carlsbad’s growth management plans, the California Environmental Quality Act, and a full Environmental Impact Review was done to comply with all planning processes.
The shopping center is proposed to be in-between Interstate 5 and the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, with an entrance and a separate exit off Cannon Road.
Caruso told the council traffic mitigation is a top priority for the project.
“We need to mitigate any traffic impacts that we’re creating because of the project,” Caruso said. “First and foremost we want to be a good member of the community but we also want to make sure that our guests are arriving on the site as conveniently as possible.”
Carlsbad has a long-range plan of having 40 percent open space throughout the city.
Caruso’s proposed plan would rezone 21 acres from commercial to permanent open space.
That acreage is currently zoned commercial because of Proposition D, which was passed in 2006.
Proposition D designated 300 acres around Cannon Road as permanent open space, with 48 acres set aside as commercial space, as a compromise for gaining 300 acres of open space.
The Strawberry Fields would remain in tact and the agriculture farming would almost double on the site.
Two residents spoke against the development.
Katherine Parker said she was worried it would set a precedent for other developers to go through the initiative process.
Councilmembers praised Caruso for the community outreach he and his team have already done.
City staff will now have much more time than the state mandated 30 days to review the information, while Caruso and his team gather signatures.
They have until November to gather the necessary 6,500 signatures.