SOLANA BEACH — If all goes as planned, the 1.5-acre vacant lot on the corner of North Cedros Avenue and Lomas Santa Fe Drive, as well as the existing train station, could be converted into offices, a restaurant and an underground parking structure within two years.
City Council unanimously supported at an Oct. 16 special meeting the issuance of a request for proposals by property owner North County Transit District.
City Manager David Ott noted NCTD was not required to seek approval from the city.
“However, in light of our working together very cooperatively over the last several years, they do desire the support of the City Council on the issuance of this RFP,” Ott said.
The city has been discussing projects for the entire 5.6-acre transit station lot for more than two decades. A $72 million development in the works for seven years ended in late 2008 after council members determined the mixed-use project wasn’t compatible with the city’s general plan.
A redesigned project was requested but never submitted. Since then a new management team has taken over at NCTD.
In January 2011 City Council approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and NCTD for development of the site.
Since then council members Mike Nichols and Lesa Heebner and city and NCTD staff have worked to address key elements of the plan. Design guidelines, crafted primarily by Nichols, have been established and are an “important document (that) helps assure some of the aesthetics,” Ott said.
Project goals include providing additional transit parking with a 150-space underground structure with retail, restaurant and transit office space above.
NCTD will fund 75 of the spaces and the developer will build the other half.
Train services such as ticket sales will be relocated to the track level.
“The train station is not going to be demolished,” Ott said. “The building will remain but it would be repurposed.”
Other goals include generating long-term revenue to support NCTD’s transit operations, creating a development compatible with the community character, increasing ridership and developing a mixed-use plan that focuses on commercial uses around the train station.
“It’s really important that it kind of fits in with the surrounding area such as the Cedros Avenue commercial zone and nearby residential neighborhoods,” Ott said.
The project must minimize traffic congestion and facilitate traffic circulation in and around the station. Plans include a traffic circle on North Cedros Avenue to help buses and service vehicles turn around because the carriage lane in front of the existing building will be removed.
“I think that’s critical to protect the adjacent neighborhoods,” Ott said.
Reed Caldwell, NCTD’s deputy general manager, agreed.
“As always, back in the community, we want to minimize any traffic congestion that we may cause,” he said. “We’re going to be very cognizant of what we do in the community to make sure that isn’t impacted.”
The four residents who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting said they generally support the plans as long as community input continues to be part of the process and the development adheres as much as possible to plans created in 2007 by architect John Gish, who designed Del Mar Plaza.
Nichols said the plans would be included in the RFP “to give a sense of the flavor of what we felt would be appropriate.”
“We always did look at the Del Mar Plaza as a model,” he said.
“If you put up a piece of garbage on this corner it’s going to be hard to get the support to develop the rest of the lot,” Tim Coughlin said.
“It’s important to design a project that’s compatible with the existing design and scale,” Jack Hegenauer said. “We want this project to fit the neighborhood character and also the long-term city vision. None of us are NIMBYs. We want what’s best for the city in this.”
Hegenauer said the project “must look like it evolved over time rather than being erected as a kind of overnight monolith.”
He encouraged the use of thoughtful design, quality materials, articulated facades and generous public outdoor spaces to give “the impression that you’re walking through an urban oasis rather than a strip mall.”
He also stressed the importance of preserving the train station, which he described as the iconic “link that brings South Cedros and North Cedros together.”
Hegenauer suggested NCTD allow the City Council ad hoc committee — Heebner and Nichols — to provide input before selecting a proposal. He said plans should also be submitted to the city for review and comment before a contract is awarded.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to make this a collaborative partnership rather than just reacting to proposals that are thrown on somebody’s desk,” he said.
Matt Tucker, NCTD executive director, said he would commit to working “closely with the city manager to make sure that we develop as robust of a public participation process as we go through this.”
“I want to make sure that what we do is consistent with our contract requirements,” Tucker added. “But at the same time it only helps us at the end to make sure that you guys have knowledge, input, feedback and we make adjustments as necessary to make the project acceptable.”
Tucker said he would also commit to hosting meetings for ongoing community input.
“We will absolutely make sure that there’s robust and maximized feedback,” he said. “It’s only made the work that we’ve done to get to this point stronger by having that input. It would absolutely be the best way to go to make sure that we have that process all the way through.”
“The worst thing would be to have something land on our dais here that just doesn’t meet anything,” Heebner said. “We don’t want to go there.”
Staff will also be working to include the guidelines in the Highway 101 specific plan as part of the general plan update currently under way.
“This is a project that’s had a long history in our community, and I know the council has been very enthusiastic about trying to get something back there,” Nichols said. “I feel like we’re in good hands.”
Redevelopment of the existing parking lot on the north end of the property will be included in phase two of the project.