CARLSBAD — Diane Nygaard, founder and president of Preserve Calavera environmental preservation group, said the word “battle” is not too strong to describe a 12-year effort to preserve open space in Buena Vista Creek Valley.
“We have worked for over 12 years to preserve the heart of the Buena Vista Creek Valley, including the watershed and regional wildlife movement corridor,” Nygaard said. “This settlement agreement is an important step in the right direction.”
Preserve Calavera began its efforts to preserve the valley more than a decade ago with opposition to the Quarry Creek shopping center south of state Route 78. The shopping center butts against El Salto Waterfall, a sacred site of the San Luis Rey Band and the Luiseno tribe.
The city of Oceanside kept open space around the waterfall, but Carlsbad went forward with building the shopping center that ended up encroaching closer to the waterfall than promised by the developer. This negatively affected the waterfall and creek flow.
As Quarry Creek housing development plans moved forward on the adjacent 156 acres, Preserve Calavera kept an eye on the development’s environmental impact.
The group also secured 134 acres as part of the Buena Vista Ecological Reserve.
During the development process numerous discussions and public meetings between Preserve Calavera, Carlsbad and Corky McMillin Companies were held.
Then in a final effort to preserve the land Preserve Calavera filed two lawsuits in 2013 objecting to city approval of the project, which limited open space and trails.
The outcome was several compromises by McMillin that benefit the environment.
The footprint of the development was moved back 100 feet from the neighboring historic Marron Adobe.
The number of units was reduced from 656 to 636, and height throughout the development was restricted to two stories.
Additional modifications of earth tone building colors, native plant landscaping and gently sloped grades help reduce the impact of the development and maintain a sense of place in the adjacent historic district, watershed and reserve.
“It’s a relief the issue is now resolved and we all know what to expect,” Nygaard said. “It is much improved protection of the natural resources.”
More than 60 acres of the housing site will be given to the city of Carlsbad by the developer to be kept as open space.
The land that the city will receive sits south of Carlsbad Village Drive and is known as Village H. It includes a historic trail that is the initial section of the planned waterfall to waves trail through the valley to the ocean.
The quarter-mile trail currently connects to a network of trails in Village H.
“There may be a possibility of connection to the south in the upcoming Trails Master Plan, but only if there are no impacts to sensitive habitat,” Kristina Ray, Carlsbad communications manager, said.
Once final development permits are received, McMillin will transfer the property to the city.
Next the trail that has been fenced off from the public for the past four years will be open after trail improvements are made.
“Improvements would have to be made, such as some root clearing, erosion repairs, signage, pet service stations, and possibly fencing to not allow dogs to run off leash in the open field areas,” Ray said.
The land is also a valuable link in the wildlife corridor.
“This settlement agreement allows a well-designed project that meets a critical housing need in our community to move forward while providing Carlsbad residents with increased access to open space and trails,” Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said. “I appreciate everyone’s willingness to work through their concerns in a positive and productive manner and keep the focus on the public good.”
Construction of the 636 homes is still a ways off. McMillin will likely sell the project to another developer to do the building.
Nygaard said Preserve Calavera will continue to monitor the area.
“We have a long-term commitment to preserve that area,” Nygaard said. “We except to be around a long time.”