SAN MARCOS — A century-old, 35-foot-tall oak tree was lifted by crane on Aug. 12 from a hillside to the central roundabout of a new mixed-use urban development site adjacent to Cal State University San Marcos.
Called North City, the development features a new coffee shop, apartments, several new restaurants, a brewpub, a cidery, student housing, a new campus office space and other coworking office space. With a bridge connecting the college to North City nearly complete and the roads serving as the thoroughfare for the new urban village now laid, phase one of a new downtown core for the city is now nearly complete.
Mayor Rebecca Jones, who attended the tree moving event, said she sees the planting of the tree as symbolic of new life being breathed into creation of a downtown.
“If you look around San Marcos, we’ve never really had a downtown,” said Jones. “We’ve always had these strips malls and there’s not really been an intentional downtown … It’s a tremendous amount of investment for development and this really is going to be a downtown of San Marcos.”
On the City Council since 2007, Jones said she has seen the project grow since its days as a proposal.
“It’s really been very exciting watching how each block starts and has continued to grow,” said Jones. “Just watching it all evolve and we’re now connecting the university to the city … it’s pretty exciting to watch it all come together, approving it all in 2009 and here we are in 2019, 10 years later.”
Councilman Randy Walton, whose son will soon begin his first semester at Cal State San Marcos as a student-athlete competing on its surf team, also attended the event as dud Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Jenkins.
Walton said he sees North City as a key step toward San Marcos becoming a full-fledged “college town” and less of a “suburb or bedroom community.”
“People would sleep their nights here and drive out of here for their entertainment and their work,” said Walton. “The hope is that neighborhoods like North City change that and people stick around for their entertainment, that it creates places to work within the city and that people from outside the city come here.”
Walton credits the North City developers for seeing the project through, despite some economic turbulence along the way.
“I think some really visionary people saw the potential a very long time ago and it was sort of a confluence of events that this growing college and a city without a downtown, if you will, created a downtown entertainment district” said Walton. “These developers, even through the recession, stuck around because they saw the vision long-term and now it’s finally coming to fruition and it’s really exciting.”
North City has been in the works for over a decade, officially known in city nomenclature as the University District Specific Plan and going by the business name Urban Villages San Marcos LLC. Its next phase, if all goes according to plan, will include a major employer, infill housing, a grocery market, movie theater, rock climbing gym and other retail shops.
The aim: keep residents out of their cars and in the area.
Gary Levitt, principal of Sea Breeze Properties which owns North City, said he sees the project as an “urban node” form of development long-needed in the county as an alternative to suburbia.
“We cannot afford to keep doing what we’ve done for the past 50 years, which is develop further and further out and creating land use models that are so suburban and nature and just keep building further and further and further out. This is not sustainable,” said Levitt. “The future of development has to be where we used our current land more effectively and more efficiently. And here we had an opportunity to do that where we had all of the pieces coming together.”
Levitt said that the oak tree came from a hillside now owned by Sea Breeze. That hillside, in the future, will serve as a new public park and housing complex built under the banner of North City.
“We’re ecstatic to not only save a local oak tree but to showcase the beauty of this old tree as an iconic natural feature at the heart of North City,” he said. “We hope the community will embrace this new landmark and it will soon become a common phrase to say, ‘Let’s meet up at the old oak tree.’”
Photo Caption: A crane lifts a century-old oak tree into its new home at North City in San Marcos, at North City Drive and Campus Drive, on Aug.12. Photo by Steve Horn