CARLSBAD — With their concerns about traffic, emergency services and environmental impacts assuaged by staff testimonies, City Council voted to approve the Quarry Creek housing development at its full 656 proposed homes after years of review and a multitude of public comments.
“Somebody asked me today, ‘Why is this (Quarry Creek decision) so difficult? You are either pro-environment or pro-development.’ Couldn’t be any wronger. I’m pro-development and pro-environment,” said Councilmember Keith Blackburn at the April 2 meeting.
The Quarry Creek housing development project proposes constructing residential units on a 156-acre site south of state Route 78 and west of College Boulevard along the border between Carlsbad and Oceanside.
Council members cited the need to meet state housing requirements and to make the project financially feasible as reasoning for supporting the 656-unit proposal from the Quarry Creek developer, Corky McMillin Companies.
“We have to place those (affordable housing) units somewhere. Where would you like to place them?” said Mayor Matt Hall, addressing the project’s opponents. “This site is a logical place to place the units to the ability that the property can hold them. So I would push for the higher end (of the number of housing units.)”
The Quarry Creek development will enable the city to meet its impending state housing requirements by building affordable residential units at high and medium-high densities.
Without the project, the city would be unable to meet its requirements by the end of the housing cycle April 30.
If Carlsbad didn’t meet its state housing requirements, the city would be penalized by the state and receive greater housing requirements for the next housing cycle, according to Carlsbad’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Director Debbie Fountain.
McMillin insisted that Quarry Creek depended on constructing 656 units not only to provide units that contribute to the city’s housing requirements, but also to be financially feasible.
In statements presented to City Council at a meeting in March, McMillin asserted that the cost of the Quarry Creek project would remain between about $50 million and $40 million regardless of the number of homes built. This is due to the required improvements the developer would have to construct, including road construction to mitigate traffic, constructing a bridge across Buena Vista Creek and moving utilities along Haymar Drive underground.
Yet unlike the cost of the project, the revenue Quarry Creek would generate would be greatly affected by the number of homes built, according to McMillin’s statement. The development revenues could range from an estimated $24 million to $70 million depending on the number of homes built.
By opting for the higher number of units, council ignored the pleas of hundreds of community members and the city’s planning commission’s recommendation to reduce the development to a maximum of 600 homes in order to preserve greater natural open space on the property.
With only 600 units, the preserved open space on the Quarry Creek site would increase by 6.2 acres to a total of 98.7 acres. This open space would add a greater buffer around El Salto Falls, a sacred site for Native Americans, and preserve the view from the historic Marron Adobe.
City Council did however concede to remove development on portions of the site to reduce the impact on the view from the Adobe.
In addition to the environmental components of the project, the council extensively discussed the traffic increases and effects on emergency services caused by the project.
City transportation staff acknowledged that traffic would increase around Quarry Creek significantly in spite of the mitigation efforts promised by McMillin. Yet staff maintained that these impacts would be minimal and that roadways would improve overall with the mitigation work.
Both the city’s fire and police chief testified before council that Carlsbad’s emergency services could address the needs of the Quarry Creek homes while still maintaining their service standards.
Ultimately council came to grips with the traffic impacts based on staff assurances that the developer would do all that was possible to improve the streets, and accepted that emergency services would remain successful.
As the councilors’ final comments revealed their support for the project at McMillin’s proposed number of housing units, dozens of attendees that opposed the full build out of Quarry Creek sighed and walked out of the meeting room.
Many of them paused only to murmur condolences to Diane Nygaard, who has been the most vocal force of the opposition. Several simply said, “Sorry,” to her as they left; one person said, “You put up a good fight.”
To each person, Nygaard, the CEO and founder of the Preserve Calavera community group, whispered back, “It’s not over yet.”
Preserve Calavera has worked to protect the site’s natural features and the view from the Adobe since the housing project was first brought before the city. The group has scrutinized the project’s proposal and the subsequent environmental impact report in hundreds of pages in letters submitted to the city.
After the meeting, Nygaard said that she and other Preserve Calavera members, “are exploring all options, and it’s never over until the bulldozers are on the hillside.”
City Council will grant final approval for the Quarry Creek housing development at a future meeting this month once city staff composes an official ordinance.