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A downtown in the making

San Marcos to see downtown district in next 10 to 15 years

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San Marcos, one of the fastest growing cities in the county, claims a major university, a multitude of restaurants collected along Restaurant Row, the newly built shopping center Grand Plaza, a bowling alley and an 18-screen movie theater.

What the city doesn’t offer, however, is a downtown identifiable to those who live, work and visit there.

“We really are a series of strip malls and, unfortunately, never really had a downtown,” said San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond.

But plans to build an urban core have been in the works for several years and recently landed on the desks of city council members for approval.

On Tuesday, the San Marcos City Council unanimously approved a project that will build a pedestrian-friendly downtown outfitted with condominiums, parks, shops and restaurants along San Marcos Creek.

Plans call for a mixed-use district that would include 1.3 million square feet of retail space, 589,000 square feet of office space and 2,300 condominiums built alongside 20 acres of park, 77 acres of open space and pedestrian trials.

The project would be located on about 217 acres between San Marcos Boulevard, Discovery Street and Grand Avenue.

Desmond said a trolley would eventually link passengers between the Sprinter stop at Palomar College, California State University San Marcos and the future downtown area.

City Council members have touted the project’s ability to boost private development and encourage visitors to the area. Desmond said a major retailer, such as Target, might want to anchor the center.

“It’s going to be appealing to first-time homebuyers and also to seniors who don’t want to drive anywhere to get places,” Desmond said.

Others, including some Lake San Marcos residents, have complained about crowding at a nearby elementary school and the possibility of water pollution runoff from the creek into the manmade lake.

About 4,000 residents live in the unincorporated community surrounded by the lake, most of them retired.

Bob Kreis, a Lake San Marcos resident and member of the city’s creek development task force, said those concerns stemmed from previous bouts with water pollution.

He said the lake’s previous owner didn’t take the proper precautions and the lake jammed with silt and other pollution caused by rainstorms.

“The creek has been source of sediment and pollution for 43 years, so anything done to improve it is going to help the situation,” he said.

City officials have countered that proper flood control methods –- such as levees, floodwalls and culverts -– would actually improve water quality in the lake.

“We’re hoping to be the poster child for stormwater runoff for this project,” Desmond said.

The city is expected to spend about $130 million during the next two years to build two four-lane bridges over the creek, construct a road on the creek’s northern edge and widen Discovery Street and Via Vera Cruz from two lanes to four and Bent Avenue from two lanes to three.

Desmond said that while the city works to improve the roadways, residents moving into the creek area’s condominiums will endure increased traffic.

“It’s going to bring more traffic to folks moving into the condo complex, but it’s also going to benefit folks who don’t have to drive to get places,” he said.

The city estimated it would take 10 to 15 years before the entire San Marcos Creek project is complete.

Send your comments to heather.chambers@sddt.com

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