Project on strawberry fields moving ahead

CARLSBAD — After spending nearly three years garnering public input on how best to develop 50 acres of strawberry fields adjacent to Interstate 5, Caruso Affiliates is about ready to move forward with project design and construction, a process that will take about three years to complete.

The Los Angeles-based developer recently mailed invitations to Carlsbad residents, inviting them to attend one of nine small community gatherings — held mornings, afternoons and evenings over three days — to share and confirm the takeaway from myriad meetings with about 4,000 residents, stakeholders and community groups.

“What we learned is that Carlsbad loves open space and being outside,” Bryce Ross, vice president of acquisitions and development, said at an April 30 gathering.

More trails, the health of the adjacent Agua Hedionda Lagoon, a place to spend time with family and friends in an outdoor environment and maintaining the strawberry fields and coastal agriculture are also important, he said.

On the commercial end, Ross said residents indicated they want quality retail stores and restaurants, a state-of-the-art movie theater and multiple dining options with lagoon views.

Armed with that information, Caruso bought an additional 151 acres of currently unused and inaccessible property from owner San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Approximately 85 percent of the total land purchase will be dedicated open space that will include about three miles of low-impact walking trails and picnic areas, Ross said.

“This allows us to do something important for the community in a responsive and passive way at zero cost to the taxpayer,” Ross said.

It also means the family-owned Carlsbad Strawberry Company can continue farming the land, as it has done for more than 50 years.

“It’s a very cool plan,” owner Jimmy Ukegawa said. “It will allow us to stay for generations to come.”

Ross said Ukegawa will use about 50 acres to grow strawberries, herbs, fruits and vegetables. The only buildings on about 176 acres of the open space property will be Ukegawa’s stand and a farm-to-table restaurant, where dinners can look out and see the where the food they are eating grew, Ross said.

“We would love to see those power lines go underground but it is so far out of our control,” Ross said in response to one resident’s question about the fate of the utility poles.

The commercial component will be on 50 acres adjacent to I-5, with buildings backed to the freeway to avoid building a large wall and temper the noise. None will exceed the 35-foot height limit.

Tenants will include a mix of local, regional and national merchants and restaurants.

Ross said residents indicated they support a high-end fashion anchor, such as Bloomingdales or Nordstrom, with the latter preferred by 80 percent of the people.

“I can’t make any promises,” Ross said. “But if you look at some of our other projects, guess what you might get?”

One such development is The Grove, a popular upscale shopping complex in Los Angeles that earned a mention on a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Caruso has been offering bus tours to The Grove so Carlsbad residents can use that for comparison and comments.

Ross said many indicated they want the same experience and quality.

“But that’s L.A.,” he said. “This is going to be Carlsbad. It will feel like it was meant to be here.… We do not want it to be a mall. If we look like a shopping center we have not responded to what you want.”

During the hourlong updates attendees watched a slide presentation and were asked to share their opinions about various scenarios, architecture and building styles.

Many said they would support something similar to The Forum in La Costa, but with fewer national chain stores.

They urged Ross to avoid a project that looks like the recently completed La Costa Town Square, which was described by some as “a bit underwhelming” and “a sea of confusing parking spaces.”

Caruso’s parking plan features limited locations — one at the lagoon conservancy and a partially below-grade structure east of the development that will be landscaped so it isn’t so obvious.

“We want to keep the parking footprint as small as possible,” Ross said, adding the goal is a park-once philosophy. A new midblock intersection for access will be added on Cannon Road, east of Paseo del Norte.

Ross said the project will be LEED certified with sustainable design that will “exceed state requirements” for energy efficiency and water-use conservation features, solar panels and a state-of-the-art filtration system so “water is fully filtered and cleaner than it is now going into the lagoon.”

Ross said Caruso plans to start the entitlement process within the month. “If all goes as planned, we’ll start construction in 18 months and open in 30 months,” he said.

Tours to The Grove are scheduled for May 15 and May 29. Buses leave the Caruso Affiliated office on Palomar Airport Road, near the freeway, about 8:45 a.m. and return by 5 p.m. Lunch at a Grove restaurant is compliments of Caruso.

Call (760) 438-1700 or email carlsbad@carusoaffiliated.com.

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