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Solana Beach bracing for large mixed-use project around train station

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The idea of developing the area surrounding the Amtrak/Coaster station in Solana Beach has existed for 17 years. The actual planning has been occurring for about six years, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy with Shea Properties' proposed, more than 400,000-square-foot Cedros Crossing.

The plans date back to 1989 when Solana Beach was picked over Del Mar for an Amtrak/Coaster station. In 2000, Solana Beach and the North County Transit District jointly adopted numerous objectives for the area around the station.

These included the enhanced use of the rail transit center, long-term parking solutions, a plan that would complement the city's existing commercial district and a development that would facilitate traffic circulation in the vicinity of the train station.

In 2001, the NCTD selected a developer (now Shea Properties) for the project.

A series of 20 community meetings between October 2001 and May 2006 were held in an effort to: produce a pedestrian-friendly design with varied architecture to complement the character of the Design District on South Cedros; place limits on traffic volumes; create open space and preserve view corridors; and build a pedestrian bridge across the train tracks at Cliff Street to facilitate beach access. Those elements have been incorporated into the current design.

In addition, when the North Coast Repertory Theatre considered relocating to Encinitas in 2003, the Solana Beach City Council asked the developer to provide a new facility for the theater, which will be leasing its space for $1 a year. A redesign accommodated the theater's needs, although it was criticized by nearby residents who felt the buildings were too high.

The development also was redesigned to reduce project area, increase parking, lower building heights, break up the roof lines to minimize view obstructions, and prevent traffic from using adjacent residential neighborhood streets.

The 400,000-square-foot-plus project now has the 27,000-square-foot theater complex, 141 loft-style apartments (125,000 square feet), 11,000 square feet of office, and 24,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

The largest single portion of the project will be an approximately 240,000-square-foot, underground parking facility with 966 spaces, including 528 spaces for Amtrak and Coaster train users.

While the plan may complement the use of public transit, Greg Shannon, Shea Properties' vice president of development, concedes that some area residents worry about the amount of traffic the project would generate, and that buildings might block their views.

City documents estimate the project would generate about 6,200 average daily trips (ADT) -- a figure that Shannon said would be higher if there were more retail in the development, as was originally conceived.

The original plan called for 79 apartments and 70,000 square feet of retail, including a multiplex movie theater.

"We reduced the commercial by 40 percent," Shannon said.

The 6,200 ADT figure may not sound like much, but some fear the extra traffic could further tax Lomas Santa Fe Drive, which already handles as much as 30,000 ADTs. In addition, there is concern that motorists seeking other routes will clog up Solana Beach's neighborhood streets.

Area resident Nicole Terrill is apprehensive about a pre-school near a juncture between North Cedros Avenue and Cliff Street.

"I am concerned about the little children. North Cedros is the only major thoroughfare to Lomas Santa Fe," she said. "If they don't use that, they are going to cut through the neighborhoods."

Terrill doesn't believe commercial development necessarily generates more traffic but that apartments do. Unlike shoppers, she said, apartment dwellers tend to come and go at all hours of the day.

"I also don't feel we should create another downtown at the beach," she added.

Though Terrill said she likes the idea of having the theater, she still thinks the venue is too large and would like to see a small neighborhood market.

Shannon counters that there was an extraordinary amount of public vetting of the project even before his firm came on board, and that he could have built to a much higher density.

"It's a large project for Solana Beach, but it's only about half of what the density allows," Shannon said.

Shannon said he expects the environmental impact report on the project to be issued within the next two or three weeks.

If all goes as Shannon would hope, the project, which requires approval from the California Coastal Commission, could get under way in March 2007. It would then be expected to completed by the fall of 2008.

Send your comments, thoughts or suggestions to thor.biberman@sddt.com

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