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Time running out for much-debated Cedros Crossing project

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It's been seven years since Cedros Crossing was initially proposed. And although now only days remain before its approval deadline, it still faces a lot of obstacles.

The proposed $50 million mixed-use project at the Solana Beach train station, at the corner of Cedros and Lomas Santa Fe, has garnered praise from the state for its smart-growth approach to transit planning. Yet the involved parties can't come to a consensus on the right final project. An ad hoc committee was formed in August of 2007 to help facilitate the approval process. They have looked at nearly a dozen project alternatives, and there have been 221 days of public review.

On Jan. 17, the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Cedros Crossing, which had been revised and re-reviewed several times, was approved by the City Council. Now the city has requested additional information from Greg Shannon, vice president of development for the project's developer, Shea Properties. The City Council of Solana Beach will evaluate that, and, if it's complete, City Manager Dave Ott will schedule a public hearing for the entire project, which takes about 10 days.

"There are a couple possible outcomes," Ott said. "One, the project is approved (by the City Council) as submitted. Two, it's approved with conditions, could be more or less.

"Or the third alternative is that it's not approved, at which point we go back to the drawing board."

The problem is that there's not much wiggle room for alterations -- the final deadline for obtaining a $6 million state grant earmarked for this project must be obtained by June, and Cedros Crossing can't happen without that money. There are three main components to the project: the parking facility, the beach sand replenishment plan and the commercial/residential element. Last summer, the debate was largely over what kind of impact a subterranean parking structure would have on the area's traffic and congestion -- and on the opposite side, whether it was actually big enough. Now the discussion centers primarily on the number of housing units.

Lesa Heebner, former mayor of Solana Beach and member of the ad hoc committee, remains concerned that the parking structure doesn't allow for enough growth. She also raises the issue that the planned residences are too densely spaced and that the project contains too much residential and not enough commercial.

"We're not like New York City, so to have mixed use really work you have to have both sides of the equation," Heebner said. "It's in a beach community, and for us to go as high as 25 dwelling units an acre is huge. This could completely transform the character of our community. And we don't want it to be transformed."

She believes the solution is to phase the project and that "the ball is in the developer's court."

Still, while all parties said they don't want to "play the blame game," the developer, North County Transit District (NCTD) and Solana Beach mayor Joe Kellejian make note that the Ad Hoc committee has not made it easy to move forward.

"We've tried to work cooperatively with the city, along with the developer, and we have yet to come up with a project that is workable," said Rick Howard, deputy executive director for NCTD. "In the city's defense, they want the best project for the community and I completely understand that; we want the best project, too. But the project now is compliant in all phases."

The arguments in favor of the current number of residential units are the ground-lease revenue it provides, that residential reportedly creates one-tenth the traffic of commercial and that one of the stipulations to obtaining the state grant is that the project include a strong housing component. However, many in the community remain reticent about the number of housing units.

"I've been with a number of people in the community, and they say they don't want 'those people in their neighborhood.' They say 'We don't want apartments, we want retail and shops and restaurants,'" said Shea Properties' Shannon. "Clearly they don't have an understanding of what transit-oriented development and smart growth are about, because apartments generate a lot less traffic than retail and restaurants. That's why we put in housing in the first place."

Cedros Crossing is to include up to 141 residential lofts as well as 50,000 square feet of commercial space, including office, restaurant and retail. The approximately $20 million parking structure will include 517 underground spaces. The North Coast Repertory Theatre, which was a part of the plan last summer, will no longer be included.

While those involved don't agree on what components make it the most viable option for Solana Beach, they do still seem to concur that it's a smart project.

"I want the best thing for the community, and we've always said that this project will be our downtown anchor," Mayor Kellejian said. "It will be a complement to the 101 development, to the Cedros area, and it will provide some other amenities. We can come down out of our bedroom communities and have a place to gather and a place to eat and recreate and to use the transit. But after we get done, we can go back to that bedroom community and not be bothered up there."

Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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