SOLANA BEACH — In a “generational acquisition” the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy acquired the Gateway Park Project east of Coast Highway 101. The purchase will preserve 3.4 acres of lagoon habitat and protect the view corridor as visitors enter Solana Beach.
The flat land parcel with bluffs that overlook the lagoon is home to numerous species that loaf, take refuge and nest.
“Currently native habitat started to come back,” Doug Gibson, executive director and principle scientist of San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, said. “The goal is to utilize that and enhance the keystone native plant species. We are not looking to restore it to become an ecological reserve. We will restore an island within it so people can get a sense of beauty of the native habitat and a view from the bluff of some of the habitat below.”
Habitat restoration and development of ADA-compliant trails is still a little ways off. The first order of business is to raise $3.75 million to pay off the property loan that is keeping the acreage out of developers’ hands.
“We’re not sure how quickly we can get this all paid off,” Gibson said. “It’s a stopgap in front of developers who might own it.”
The property has been sought after by real estate developers for the past 30 years and came close to being developed in the 1980s.
“Inn Suites development had gotten approval of a 172-room hotel,” Gibson said. “Solana Beach incorporated over this site and put a building hold on the property. Development couldn’t go further. That was break one.”
In the 1990s, a hotel condo project, which was met with community opposition, went as far as the EIR phase of development before the property foreclosed and went back to the bank.
The price of the property was then reduced to $3.75 million. This gave the conservancy an opportunity to bid against developers.
“There was no nonprofit tax write off,” Gibson said. “We were in competition with developers on a dollar per dollar basis. The advantage we had was we could close this at the end of the fiscal year. The bank had a real big benefit. There is a lot of debt in this property. They could recoup some of their losses.”
The conservancy will begin an aggressive capital fundraising campaign in the next few weeks to pay for the property. The goal is to raise $3.75 million in six months.
“I know the community itself has long fought developers on this site,” Gibson said. “It is the last land holding in Solana Beach that has a connection to the reserve. For us this was a generational acquisition. We get to intermingle conservation and community interest and save a piece of land that is so iconic it only comes around once in a generation. We’re proud to be a part of it.”
Donations are already coming in to help pay off the property loan.
“Somehow, some way, people are making this happen,” Gibson said.
For more information on the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, visit sanelijo.org. To make a donation, call Elaine Dodge at (760) 436-3944, ext. 708.