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Neighbors blast long-delayed La Costa development

CARLSBAD — A group of Carlsbad and Encinitas residents is suing Carlsbad, angry over City Council’s approval of an 83-acre development on the northeast corner of La Costa Avenue and Rancho Santa Fe Road.
The project, known as La Costa Town Square, has been part of the city’s development plan since the 1970s. Originally proposed as a strip mall, it has been redesigned and scaled back to include a 284,900-square-foot shopping center, 55,000 square feet of office space and 64 single-family homes.
The lawsuit contends, among other things, that the city failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and didn’t adequately consider the environmental impacts.
“The reality is they hid the truth,” said Everett DeLano, the attorney representing the citizens group, North County Advocates. “Ten or 20 years ago, they said this was planned. So why complain now? Today’s today.
“Now is the time to think about those impacts,” DeLano said. “What’s disturbing about the current analysis is that they ignored the mitigation for blasting and for traffic in Encinitas, Carlsbad and on Interstate 5 because it would be too much for the developer to pay for. That doesn’t suffice. Isn’t this just a gift to the developer?”
Residents are primarily concerned with traffic and a 100,000-square-foot building that could accommodate a big-box store they say is inappropriate for the residential neighborhood.
The city said when Rancho Santa Fe Road was widened a few years ago, it accounted for the increased traffic that would be generated by the project. Residents disagree, saying a recent traffic study couldn’t accurately consider traffic and safety impacts on nearby schools because it was conducted in July when classes weren’t in session.
“There’s already been 130 accidents year-to-date on La Costa Avenue,” said Rob Mayers, one of about 25 or 30 people who attended a Sept. 16 rally at the site. “How much will that increase with more cars?”
Bob and Martha Baron, who have lived on La Costa Avenue for 20 years, said it’s rare to see motorists driving within the speed limit. “Coming out of my driveway is like entering a freeway,” Martha Baron said. “It didn’t used to be like that. It’s unfair. This is a beautiful place. Traffic should be controlled.”
The Barons said they are also concerned about large delivery trucks accessing the new development via La Costa Avenue. Martha Baron said truck drivers consistently ignore signs prohibiting vehicles larger than 7 tons on the street. As she spoke, an oversized truck turned from eastbound La Costa onto northbound Rancho Santa Fe.
Most residents also oppose a 100,000-square-foot building which they say could result in big-box tenants such as Wal-Mart. The city said that building was scaled back from its original size so it would no longer be attractive to big-box retailers, but residents say it’s still big enough to accommodate them. According to several Web sites, it’s a valid claim.
Ron Ball, the city attorney, disagrees. He said tenants must comply with other conditions of approval, including one that limits to 10 percent the amount of floor space that can be devoted to nontaxable items, such as food. Retailers also cannot sell more than 30,000 separate, stock-keeping items or another lesser amount as defined by the council.
“Those conditions would stop the typical big-box from going in there,” Ball said. “They are the retailers that fit that profile.”
Before approving the project at the Aug. 18 meeting, City Councilman Keith Blackburn said he shared the residents’ concerns. After Ball listed the restrictions, Blackburn said he felt confident those constraints would make the project difficult and unappealing to a big-box retailer.
“I’m sorry (the residents) don’t believe we are watching out for their best interests, but we are,” Blackburn said.
Most residents at the rally said they don’t oppose development on the site. “People have the right to build, but they should build properly,” Martha Baron said.
“Everyone wants something, just not a big box,” Mayers said. “They need to tone it down.”
Kristin Kirwan, who lives off Carlsbad Village Drive in the northern part of the city and wouldn’t be impacted by the development, attended the rally. “It’s a cause I really believe in,” she said. “We don’t need more big-box stores in an area saturated with empty ones. There’s no economic need.”
Residents said they would be willing to work with the developer to create something appropriate for the neighborhood. Most said they would like to see a more upscale, walkable project such as the nearby Forum, with a high-end market like Bristol Farms.
“Had the city done what it said and analyzed the true impacts, this might be a project that fits in the community,” DeLano said.
“We believe there is substantial evidence to support the City Council’s certification of the environmental impact report and it is a legally defensible determination,” Ball said.
According to Ball, if both sides can’t come to an agreement in mediation, the matter will be determined by a judge. The developer, Aspen Properties, did not return phone calls.