CARLSBAD — About 12 hours after Carlsbad City Council approved the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Initiative, Rick Caruso held a press conference to thank the community and announce what’s next.
On Tuesday night, council unanimously approved his plan to build an upscale mall on the strawberry fields.
Caruso said he’s been looking to build in North County for more than a decade.
“It has been a dream of mine to build in North San Diego County and we have looked in this area for a long, long time,” Caruso said.
He’s been doing community outreach for the past three years.
Owner of the Carlsbad Strawberry Company Jimmy Ukegawa spoke in support of the project.
“I’ve supported the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan from the beginning because it will allow my family business to be sustainable and to expand our farming operations from 30 to 60 acres,” Ukegawa said.
Part of the proposal includes preserving 155 acres as permanent open space and creating trails and picnic areas for the public to enjoy.
At the city council meeting Tuesday night, staff pointed out that voter approved Proposition D, which passed in 2006 declaring the land open space, did not preserve the strawberry fields forever.
Proposition D states that 50 acres within the lagoon area are zoned commercially and the reaming 176 acres will be set aside for agriculture and open space, as long as agriculture is financially feasible.
Ukegawa said he’ll now be able to pass the fields down to his family.
The project doesn’t have a name yet, although Caruso said they’ll likely include the word “fields” in some form.
He said they’ll continue to work with the community to form the design, which will be a coastal village style architecture.
“Personally, my goal is it’s going to be the best project we’ve ever built. The amount of designers and engineers that are working on it, it’s going to be spectacular,” Caruso said. “We aim to amaze.”
Caruso also discussed why he chose the citizen led initiative process, instead of going through the normal process for approval.
He said while the California Environmental Quality Act was originally intended to protect the environment, it is now used as a tool for competing developers to hold up a project in court.
“CEQA has just become much more of a sword than a shield for a competitor to stop project. The project is way too important to be caught in the court system,” Caruso said.
In 2011, Caruso had planned to develop a project in Santa Anita but competitor Westfield and residents rallied to shut the project down.
The project had gained approval by the Santa Anita City Council but was dragged through court and Caruso eventually abandoned the project.
Carlsbad leaders hope for a better outcome.
“This is going to be the nicest project in San Diego County, if not the nicest project in Southern California,” said Mayor Matt Hall.
The proposal will go to the Coastal Commission next week.
The project could be open by 2018.
First, the upgrades to the open space will be added before the shopping center can open.