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Cedros Crossing project approval still faces gridlock

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Discussions have been heated this summer around Cedros Crossing, a proposed $50 million mixed-use project in Solana Beach at the corner of Cedros and Lomas Santa Fe. And they're still in a gridlock.

Most parties are in agreement that the final phase of the Train Station development that the city of Solana Beach approved in 1991 should be built. Yet community opposition and controversy remain over its final iteration.

The size of the complex was formerly an issue, although it's now been reduced by 40 percent since the original plans. The main issue at hand now is its subterranean parking structure, and whether the 966 spaces -- over half of which will be for Amtrak and Coaster train users -- are actually enough.

Cedros Crossing would include office space, residential lofts, retail and restaurant space, and be home to the North Coast Repertory Theatre.

A sense of urgency stems from the money at stake: a $6 million state grant essential for the building of the $15 million parking structure must be claimed by June 2008. Before those funds can be retrieved, a number of steps have to take place, starting with approval of a revised Environmental Impact Study (EIR).

"We're on a really tight schedule even in a perfect world," said Greg Shannon, vice president of development for Shea Properties. "We have to get city approval and certification of the EIR no later than Thanksgiving of this year."

The most recent catalyst for the parking debate was a study by consulting firm Austin-Foust, which the city hired to provide outside analysis on the impact of the proposed project. The Austin-Foust results were released on July 19 to additional debate. The report concluded that the prior EIR underestimated traffic increase by 30 percent to 35 percent, and that in just a few years the parking structure would be at capacity. The original report estimated capacity would be reached in 2030.

A revised EIR was scheduled to be recirculated for public comment on Aug. 16 for a 45-day period. Comments will be responded to, another public hearing will be held to garner EIR certification and finally project approval. Then the California Coastal Commission will get involved in determining how to best manage the excavated sand, $1 million worth, to be added back to the Solana Beach coastline.

An ad hoc committee was also created on July 19, consisting of Mayor Lesa Heebner and Councilman Mike Nichols to work with the developers and North County Transit District (NCTD) while the EIR is being recirculated, a measure to try and speed up the process.

Rick Howard, deputy executive director for NCTD, thinks the ad hoc committee is a good step.

"But any further delays are damaging and potentially crippling to the project," he said.

Heebner said she, too, wants things to move forward, but that the Austin-Foust findings were significant enough to warrant a new EIR.

"It's a very different site than a typical smart growth plan because you can only get to it one way: via North Cedros," Heebner explained. "So there are factors that have to be taken into consideration, such as there really is only so much that can fit and only so much you can do with traffic. Just because something is smart growth doesn't mean it's smart planning."

Yet others, including Howard and Shannon, say the revised parking predictions are based on worst-case scenarios. Deputy Mayor Joe Kellejian reiterated the same concern, and added that worst-case scenarios don't happen every day.

Many are worried that the state funding will be lost due to what some perceive as the minutiae of the project.

"Some say, 'We want the project, but want it to be the right project.' I am on my fourth term in 15 years and have been involved not only at the city level but regionally, and I am going to be honest -- that is the famous line of killing a project," Kellejian said.

Yet David Ott, city manager for Solana Beach, said it's a complicated issue.

"There is a thing called latent demand -- the traffic needs out there will be satisfied one way or another. For example, if we don't have sufficient parking at transit or colleges, people will go park in the neighborhoods instead. It's a real issue to find that balance -- what's sufficient parking versus, 'If you build it they will come.'"

Joe Foust of Austin-Foust Associates said he would not comment until after the revised ERI comes out this week.

Heebner pointed out that her team has been following the law in giving residents a chance to speak out, and that community input is an essential part of making sure the project is successful.

"Our council has been painted in a way that's unfair," Heebner said. "We're community volunteers; we all have regular jobs, and the last thing we want to do is be spending our Saturdays and extra time for nothing. We want a project and we want a good project. This outside pressure, I don't think has helped the process at all and just made it distasteful and harder to do."

That's the one thing all involved agree upon: that Cedros Crossing needs to come to fruition. The development is to include office space, 141 residential lofts and 24,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The North Coast Repertory Theatre is to be housed there as well, although debate continues over parking availability for theater patrons.

Despite controversy, Cedros Crossing is garnering attention at the state level for its smart growth protocol, which Kellejian said has made it the "darling" of California as a transit-center development.

Perhaps Howard best sums up the common sentiment toward the project from the various factions, regardless of the differences in opinion on how to get there.

"In a perfect world, I would like to see the community of Solana Beach, the city of Solana Beach decision-makers, NCTD and the developer all stand up and say this is a great project. This project works. It's taken a long time to get to this result, but the wait was worth the effort."

Blackford is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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