Strawberry fields mall moves forward

Strawberry fields mall moves forward
Developer Rick Caruso announced his plans to build an upscale retail shopping center and to improve access to Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Photo by Ellen Wright

CARLSBAD — Strawberry fields forever…

The Beatles tune is becoming a Carlsbad reality after Los Angeles-based developer Rick Caruso announced his plans for the 200 acres south of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

In 2006 voters passed Proposition D, which set aside about 300 acres along Cannon Road as permanent open space.

About 50 of the acres where the Strawberry fields are currently located were not included in the proposition because the city wanted to avoid legal fallout of determining it permanent open space and the parcel served as a compromise to preserve the rest of the site.

On Tuesday, Caruso said he hopes to develop half of the approved 50 acres into a destination style shopping center and introduced the “Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan,” in which 176 acres will be preserved as permanent open space and 26 acres will house a shopping center. Of those 176 acres, 155 acres of the open space will be permanently dedicated to and managed by qualified environmentally focused non-profits, public agencies and agricultural interests.

“We will be developing only about 26 of those acres, so actually under our proposal, there will be more open space dedicated to the public,” Caruso said.

The plan gets its name because 85 percent of the land Caruso purchased from SDG&E will be open space and 15 percent will be retail.

After spending three years meeting with more than 4,000 residents, Caruso and his team developed the plan.

“What we’ve learned is (residents) want open space and they want open space done the right way,” Caruso said.

The Caruso team sent out mailers to residents, held public workshops and bused people to Caruso’s other center in LA, The Grove, where residents highlighted what they thought would and wouldn’t work for Carlsbad.

The Americana in LA is another Caruso Affiliated project.

Caruso said he had been looking to develop in North County for 15 years and finally found the right opportunity with the strawberry fields location, which has yet to be named.

“There’s nothing like it in San Diego County,” Caruso said.

President of the Carlsbad Strawberry Company, Jimmy Ukegawa, former Chairman of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce Carlton Lund and Chairwoman of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation Maureen Simons all voiced their approval.

“The 85/15 Plan protects the lagoon at no cost to the taxpayers by using innovation, infiltration and an environmentally friendly design to safeguard the watershed,” said Simmons.

If the plan passes, the revenue from the shopping center will go towards making the open space accessible with nature trails, park benches, picnic areas, an educational resource area and an amphitheater.

Ukegawa said the plan makes strawberry farming sustainable and economically viable.

The next step is to gather support signatures and bring them to the City Council, where councilmembers can either approve the plan, or put it on the ballot for voters to decide.

If council does approve it, construction can begin six months later.

Caruso hopes the shopping center will be open by 2018.

In order to build the shopping center, the open space access upgrades would need to be built first.

“That’s also why we think the initiative process is so important because it will be built into law and can’t be changed,” Caruso said.

The plan will follow LEED specifications and use recycled water.

He hopes to have a farm-to-table restaurant using produce grown on the site in one of the retail spaces.

No retailers have been announced yet, and Caruso said in order to involve “mom and pop” stores, there is a program in place for reduced rents based on revenues.

“We encourage small business, I was a small business and we want to foster that,” Caruso said.

The entrance will be on Cannon Road and the ingress and egress will be separated, to mitigate traffic impacts near Interstate-5.

Bryce Ross, vice president of acquisitions and development said there will be more parking spaces than required by law and their philosophy is to “park once.”

Caruso and his team are still open to comments and suggestions and have forums set up through May and June.

A free bus tour of The Grove is leaving Caruso offices off Palomar Airport Road May 29 at 8:45 a.m. and will return by 5 p.m. To sign up, call (760) 438-1700 or email carlsbad@carusoaffiliated.com.

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