OCEANSIDE — In less than a month, City Council is expected to decide on a project meant to completely re-vision its stretch of Coast Highway.
Ten years ago, the city of Oceanside adopted the Coast Highway Vision and Strategic Plan. This plan, or what the city refers to as a “blueprint for the revitalization and enhancement of the Coast Highway corridor,” would make Coast Highway more friendly to pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles and other modes of transportation besides just automobiles.
The city has been studying the design process for the vision plan’s proposed changes for some time. The study has been assessing existing and future transportation conditions along the Coast Highway and its neighboring streets to figure out the best way to implement the vision plan’s recommended changes.
Specifically, the study has focused on improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, improving public transit access, installing roundabouts, improving parking for businesses along the highway and encouraging economic development through changes to public streetscape and mobility access.
The plan would also include reducing traffic lanes from two to one lane in each direction, installing more pedestrian crossings and angling parking spaces. According to City Principal Planner Russ Cunningham, the plan would add about 20 additional parking spaces.
The project area consists of approximately 485 gross acres of land and extends about three miles from Harbor Drive in the north to the Buena Vista Lagoon in the south.
The plan wants to apply “livable communities” and “smart growth” principles to make it more pedestrian- and transit-friendly while also curbing urban sprawl. The plan would, according to city staff, preserve the historic road while also applying the “complete streets” concept, a design approach that aims to make streets safer and more convenient for all users regardless of how they are traveling.
The project would also create an incentive district that would allow developers to build past current city height and dwelling unit limits in exchange for more public parking, open space and additional ground floor commercial area. Those additional height limits would stop at 65 feet and allow for up to 63 dwelling units per acre.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the proposed changes, particularly residents and business owners in South Oceanside.
Save South Oceanside is a group that formed in 2016 in response to the plan. Member Joel West explained that the group is opposed to the “road diet” and incentive district project in that portion of the city.
“South Oceanside is very different from downtown,” West said. “What might be a good idea there isn’t going to work here.”
The preferred project would extend the incentive district from Seagaze Drive to the lagoon, but Save South Oceanside members wanted the district and the road diet to end at Oceanside Boulevard. Instead, the Planning Commission voted to recommend “Alternative 3” at its June 11 meeting, which would stop the district and diet at Morse Street. The commission did approve to have a high density “Node” from Oceanside Boulevard to La Salina Creek.
The plan would add four “nodes” along Coast Highway, which have wide sidewalks and “bump outs” at corners, mixed-use buildings adjacent to the sidewalk and more pedestrian rather than auto-oriented uses, according to the city. The nodes are referred to as the Las Ramblas North “O” node, the Transit Center node, Sprinter Station node and South “O” Village node, and each are connected by landscaped “Avenue” segments that incorporate a center median, wide front yards and larger multifamily residential uses.
Save South Oceanside took issue with the South “O” Village node that would be located between Cassidy and Whaley streets given the potential increased building height, if redeveloped, and how it could also mean demolishing the buildings that currently house Anita’s Mexican Restaurant and Privateer Coal Fire Pizza.
Cunningham noted that it’s likely a node will not be put there given the community’s concerns.
According to Cunningham, city staff could have done a better job clarifying that the additional height and density allowed in the nodal areas would still be limited and would only be allowed if additional public parking and open or commercial space would be implemented.
City staff has been working with Save South Oceanside to address its concerns about the potential project. The group noted in a blog post on its website that “the city is willing to work with us to address some of our concerns, so we want to see if there is common ground.”
Cunningham said city staff members still believe the preferred project best aligns with the vision plan, but they are staying flexible.
“We respect the opinions of these stakeholders of South Oceanside, so we don’t have an issue with the council choosing Alternative 3 if they see that to be the most appropriate option at this point,” he said.
If the project is approved, the city will then take a phased approach to implement the project. The city will also need the California Coastal Commission to review and certify the project.
Council will consider the project and its environmental impact report on Aug. 14.