CARLSBAD — For now, the California Coastal Commission has put the brakes on plans from the city of Carlsbad to change two parcels to a visitor commercial zone designation.
Opponents of the city’s proposed plan say it was an attempt by the City Council to find a back door to construct a luxury mall on the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Commonly known as Measure A and spearheaded by Caruso Affiliated, the proposal was defeated in February in a special election.
In a memorandum between city officials, however, the city’s Senior Planner Jennifer Jesser said it was not an attempt to circumvent voters, noting the proposed changes began seven years ago.
The other parcel is the Encina Power Station at the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Cannon Road.
City council candidate Cori Schumacher, along with Amanda Mascia, Jan Bandich, Lisa Mckethan, Kris Wright and Hope Nelson spoke before the Coastal Commission on May 11 in Newport Beach urging them to halt the proposed changes.
The commission unanimously deferred the items for further evaluation.
“While we were fighting to get Measure A on the ballot, the city quietly changed the land use from underneath us to allow for exactly what Caruso wanted,” Schumacher said. “In addition to that, they added residential commercial mixed use to visitor commercial, which had never been in there before.”
During Tuesday’s council meeting, however, many residents railed against the council for what they perceived is a continued effort to build the Caruso mall.
Mayor Matt Hall invited several speakers to sit down and talk about their concerns.
“I invite you to sit down so we can be very clear about the process,” he said. “I think some of you are getting hung up on the terminology.”
The city was asking to change the designation from Travel Recreation (TR) to Visitor Commercial (VC). According to the city, the title change does not alter the primary purpose and intent of the designation. The city also requested for a VC/Open Space designation for the power plant.
Currently, the 48-acre site of Measure A and the Encina Power Station will remain under the designations of travel services and public utility, respectively.
Dozens of residents submitted letters to the commission urging them to deny the change. The commission did, however, approve zoning change requests for other parcels the city had requested.
“It will come back up again,” Schumacher said of the issue. “The other element is … Caruso is still hanging about. He still has an option on the 48 acres, so many of us believe he was waiting for this General Plan amendment to go through, so that he could begin his steps to build on that property.”
According to the September 2015 memorandum from Jesser to City Manager Kevin Crawford and Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio, the General Plan was amended for the city’s zoning ordinance, zoning map and local coastal program land use map.
She said the change allowed a mall, which was the centerpiece of the Measure A battle.
The memo, meanwhile, states the title did not change the primary intent, but was intended to be “more intuitive and user-friendly” by being more specific of the designation.
“Whether the designation is titled TR or VS, the primary difference when compared to the other commercial designations is the focus on visitor-serving commercial and recreation uses,” the memo reads.
Regarding whether the General Plan update was proposed to allow the implementation of Measure A, Jesser said it was not.
“The AHSP (Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan) initiative proposed a stand-alone General Plan change that included the creation of a new ‘Visitor-Serving Commercial (VSC)’ land use designation for a specific 203-acre property,” Jesser wrote. “The General Plan update was initiated by the city, was completely independent and unrelated to the AHSP initiative, and began nearly seven years prior to the AHSP initiative.”
In addition, Jesser said the update involved “extensive” community outreach, a 19-member resident committee, workshops, stakeholder meetings, two citywide surveys and public hearings.
“The most critical parts of our Local Coastal Program amendment have now been approved, which helps bring land in our coastal zone into compliance with our updated General Plan,” said Barberio.
“Although we are ready to provide whatever additional clarification is needed so the commissioners can rule on the items still awaiting consideration, these deferred decisions shouldn’t directly affect any properties in the immediate future.”