SOLANA BEACH —Residents got their first look at four potential developments for the 5.6-acre train station lot on North Cedros Avenue during a public open house Nov. 19 at Solana Vista Elementary School.
The projects ranged from simple concept boards to an elaborate scaled model presented by three local firms and one from Los Angeles.
The developers stressed that their plans are in the early stages but all said moving forward they will avoid mistakes made during a previous attempt to develop the property between Lomas Santa Fe Drive and Cliff Street that is owned by North County Transit District.
Cedros Crossing, a $72 million mixed-use development featuring retail shops, restaurants, boutique office space, 141 housing units and a $19 million underground parking garage failed to come to fruition following seven years of negotiations after it was deemed too large and out of character for the community.
“Cedros Crossing was scaled too big,” said Joe Balla, of Strategic Assets Group Inc., who partnered with John DeWald to create Cedros Market. “We believe we’ve solved that here.”
Their proposal includes restaurant, retail and office use, a boutique hotel and an as-yet-unspecified number of “low-intensity” residential units.
According to a press release, Cedros Market will be a “locally grown” complex that emphasizes “local wants and needs” by creating a shopping district “compatible and complimentary to the community.”
“We really have no place where the community can gather, interact, shop, enjoy a restaurant or a cup of coffee, and have that feeling of community, all in one locale,” Balla stated in the press release.
“The goal is to make the project look like it evolved over time,” Balla said.
Enhanced pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular access will be a major focus, with a roundabout proposed on North Cedros to keep traffic away from the residential neighborhood, he added.
Balla, a Solana Beach resident, said he watched his children perform plays in the room where the open house was held. He is also director of the George and Betty Harbaugh Charitable Foundation, which donated $1.5 million to preserve a 3.4-acre site previously known as Gateway Park as open space in perpetuity.
DeWald, who lives in Encinitas, designed that city’s mixed-use Pacific Station. Solana Beach resident Torgen Johnson is heading up their design team.
“The Cedros Market project is near and dear to our hearts because we are passionate about what happens in our community and what gets built here,” Balla stated.
The No. 1 goal of The Station Solana Beach is “to bring the community a boutique beach lifestyle that’s relaxed and family-oriented,” said Del Mar resident Lee Chesnut of Chesnut Properties. “We want it to feel like it’s been here forever and to last forever.
“We chose specifically not to include hot, new trendy things,” he added. “We took a risk not doing that. It will be organic, locally made and family-oriented. It’s not going to be a bunch of bars open late at night.”
Chesnut said he envisioned parents pushing young children in strollers, stopping to grab a sandwich for a picnic and exploring things through a walkable area. With that in mind he created the “event lawn,” which could also be used for outdoor fitness classes.
The Station Solana Beach would feature a “small-scale cluster of buildings” designed for three “unique destination restaurants,” a boutique beach hotel, live/work residential lofts and retail and office space.
The size and style will “integrate seamlessly with the existing fabric of Solana Beach,” with building placement designed to “celebrate walkability.”
Chesnut plans to repurpose the existing train station into a restaurant, coffee shop or craft beer “experience” or a place to view historic photos and learn about community and train history.
He said the development would be significantly less dense than Cedros Crossing. It will include 1,242 parking spaces.
“It’s all about the lifestyle here,” he said. “We’re not trying to create a powerful economic machine. There will be a true connection for the people.”
His team includes Solana Beach and Del Mar design and landscape architects.
Nancy Keenan, principal at Dahlin Group on South Cedros Avenue, said her project, tentatively called Station Marketplace, will include a corner restaurant, perhaps from the Cohn group, 96 residential units over retail space and areas for an open-air market to accommodate rotating food trucks or other vendors.
Keenan is proposing to extend Estrella Street to North Cedros to relieve traffic. She also said current plans include a promenade along the Coastal Rail Trail and a mix of two- and three-story buildings, “but we will talk to the community about that.”
“We’re going to listen,” she said. “More than anything else, we’re going to listen. And if people want to reach out to us, we’re right here.”
Michael Dieden, president of Los Angeles-based Creative Housing Associates, said he was at the open house mainly to garner public input before creating a final design for his project, The Cove at Solana Beach.
After talking to residents he said he learned people want things to complement the existing neighborhood.
“They also want uses that aren’t already here,” he said. “So we are considering maybe a small art house or cinema.”
He is proposing an innovative, automated, safer, “intelligent” parking system that is more cost effective and sustainable because of a reduction in car fumes.
A system of steel lifts and shuttles moves cars on pallets. It is currently in use at an apartment complex in the L.A. area.
More than 125 people attended the open house. The developers said most of the feedback was positive.
“They all look good to me,” resident Peter House said.
“This is our first introduction so it’s a little too early to tell,” Jean Sebold said. “I really like the process. After the previous attempt, it’s good to get people out in the early stages.”
An NCTD evaluation committee is reviewing the projects, the only ones received during a recent request for proposals. Following public outreach efforts, the developers can change their designs to reflect comments received and resubmit the plans.
The committee will then select the proposal that will move forward. Once that happens, the project must be approved by the NCTD board of directors. It will then go to the city for required permits and evaluation by City Council during public hearings.
To accommodate residents’ schedules, a second open house was held two days later at Skyline Elementary School.