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North City project in San Marcos is currently under construction
The North City project in San Marcos is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in the next 10 to 20 years. Photo courtesy of Sea Breeze Properties
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North City developers request to increase building height limits

SAN MARCOS — Developers of the North City project in San Marcos are asking the city for permission to make a series of project adjustments, including significantly increasing the allowable height of buildings permitted on the development. 

At a public workshop held Monday, the project’s developers, Sea Breeze Properties, formally requested an amendment to the regulatory document adopted in 2009 with the city that laid out the parameters for development concerning standards such as building height, architectural design, building orientation, and street design. 

The North City project is 195 acres in size and is located south of state Route 78, north of Barham Drive and overlapping Twin Oaks Valley Road to the east and west. North City’s entitlements will include 3,400 residential units (including mixed-family residences, student housing and affordable housing), 450 hotel rooms, 1,100,000 square feet of office space, and 345,000 square feet of retail.

The proposed amendment would allow Sea Breeze properties to build structures on the site up to 16 stories in height, vastly exceeding the current vertical limit of eight stories currently allowed under the project.

The expansion in height will permit developers to build a 12-story complex located at the intersection of North City Drive and Campus Way that will allow for significantly more mixed-family residences without taking up more space by building horizontally, according to Sea Breeze vice president Darren Levitt.

North City project in San Marcos
The North City project is currently under construction in San Marcos. Photo courtesy of Sea Breeze Properties

The height expansion will also allow for more creative outdoor open spaces in the complex that wouldn’t be possible with a shorter structure, according to Levitt

“Going vertical allows us to create a better ground plain environment — if we can use the specific entitlements in a vertical manner you can create outdoor public spaces where you can have community gatherings, farmers markets, etc…the height flexibility just would add a lot of character and benefits to the region long term,” Levitt said. 

However, the developer acknowledged some residents are vigorously opposed to the new amendment, speaking out against the height expansion proposal at Monday’s workshop. 

One of those residents, Kirk Erickson, said that he and others in the community are concerned about how a taller structure could impact the unique residential character of the area.

“People in San Marcos want a residential feel to this community,” Erickson said. “We don’t want to live in downtown San Diego or Mission Valley, we don’t want to have to live in the shadow of buildings — the notion of seeing a 16-story building takes away the residential feel and gives the area more of an urban feel.”

But Levitt argued the expanded building height was necessary to accommodate more housing, including more units for lower-income families in a region already strapped for affordable housing. 

North City porject in San Marcos is currently under construction.
Sea Breeze wants to raise the project’s allowable building height up to 16 stories. Photo courtesy of Sea Breeze Properties

“The additional height issue is controversial only here in Southern California where we’re used to building like the status quo, just more suburban single-family developments, but ask anyone in this state and they’ll tell you that there’s a shortage of housing,” Levitt said. “San Marcos wants more housing but where do we build? There’s no room to keep going further and further out to build the homes that we need in this community.

“This is the right place for that density to exist…we’re asking just to use the entitlements granted in 2009 to build a better way forward for the future…how do we use these entitlements to create the most sustainable, environmentally friendly way? Building vertically is a lot more green than building horizontally.”

The proposed project amendment would also remove the future construction of two planned bridges that were included in the initial project design. One of those bridges was supposed to be a pedestrian bridge running west of Twin Oaks Valley Road to the area south of Barham Drive over Discovery Street. The other bridge was going to be a fly-over structure running over SR 78 connecting north to Johnston Way. 

Levitt said the fly-over bridge will no longer be necessary since the amount of traffic generated by the North City development will be significantly less than originally predicted by models in 2009. 

Those models were based on the assumption that a much larger proportion of the acreage on the development would be dedicated towards retail, an assumption that changed over time as more and more retail became based on online shopping instead of foot traffic at big box stores, Levitt said.

As a result, Sea Breeze Properties is now asking for just 345,000 square ft. of retail space in North City —about a third of what was originally requested in 2009.

Much of that space is now being reconfigured towards residential housing and commercial space, Levitt said.

However, the removal of the proposed bridges has some residents concerned about how developers will accommodate for the inevitable increase in traffic in the community that will come as more housing units are built. 

North City project in San Marcos
The North City project is 195 acres located south of state Route 78. Photo courtesy of Sea Breeze Properties

“There’s nothing put into the design development now to mitigate that increase in traffic…you’re bringing in at least 3400 new vehicles…those housing units are going to have such an impact on traffic going through the Twin Oaks street and now there’s no additional bridge to allow people to access the 78,” Erickson said. “By building housing units but to not do anything to lessen the impact in my mind is ludicrous.” 

Levitt acknowledged that some of the residents had expressed concerns over potential traffic impacts. However, he expressed that even with the removal of the bridge over SR 78, the amount of traffic generated by the project was still almost 50% less than the previous models predicted for the development’s original design, as most of the traffic was going to be driven by retail space that will no longer be utilized.

Levitt said Sea Breeze Properties has been working closely with engineers from the city and CalTrans to ensure that Twin Oaks Valley Road can accommodate the additional influx of vehicles that will stem from the project’s completion. 

“We’re at a pretty significant reduction in traffic from where we were in 2009…both our engineers and the city’s engineers have confirmed that building this bridge would make no sense…traffic generally speaking is a science, and we’re not skirting around our responsibilities with this project,” Levitt said. 

At this point in time, the North City project is about 10-15% completed, and has seen the development so far of 60,000 square ft. in medical offices, a 28,000 square ft. climbing facility,  20,000 square ft. for Draft Republic brewery, and 35,000-square feet in ground-floor retail space.

Developers have also built 266 units of market-rate, multi-family housing and 866 beds of student housing for individuals living near the Cal State San Marcos campus. 

The project’s costs are already in the “hundreds of millions of dollars,” and the development is not expected to be fully completed for another 10-20 years depending on market conditions. 

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