By Joe Tash
A new agreement between the city of Solana Beach and the North County Transit District could lead to the development of the parking lot at the Solana Beach transit center, more than two years after a previous bid to build a mixed-use project at the site fizzled out.
In January, the Solana Beach City Council and the transit district board both unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding, in which they agreed to work together to plan a project for the 5.7-acre site owned by the transit district.
The cooperative tone of the document contrasts markedly with the contentious debate over the previous development proposal, which was called Cedros Crossing and included commercial space, parking structures and 141 apartments.
The city and nearby residents opposed the Cedros Crossing plan, which was ultimately withdrawn by the transit district in late 2008.
The parcel in question is north of Lomas Santa Fe Avenue and west of North Cedros Avenue. The long, narrow parcel is now used as a parking lot for transit riders, including daily Coaster commuters, bus riders and Amtrak passengers.
According to Dave Roberts, a Solana Beach councilman and member of the transit district board, the Cedros Crossing project “was just too dense for our community. The project has to fit the community that it’s in.”
The new agreement calls for a “transit-friendly, mixed-use project” that is compatible with the surrounding community, provides increased parking for the transit center, fosters increased transit ridership and generates revenue.
Without such an agreement between the agencies, said Roberts, “We’d both be at a standstill… we’d be stuck with a parking lot and NCTD couldn’t maximize use of the property they own in the city.”
Jack Hegenauer, who lives up the hill from the transit center and was among the community members who mobilized the opposition against the Cedros Crossing proposal, said he believes the community will support a project if it’s planned properly, with input from residents and city officials.
“Everyone in Solana Beach understood that site needed proper development. It’s a big piece of property and you just can’t leave it as a parking lot forever and ever,” he said.
Residents were concerned the previous plan didn’t include enough parking, would have snarled traffic around the transit center, and was aesthetically incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, said Hegenauer.
Residents want “something that we can all be proud of and that will serve the city for years to come. And that process is underway,” Hegenauer said.
Ray Patchett, a special consultant to the transit district who is working on the Solana Beach project, said the next step is to conduct a parking study, to determine precisely how much parking is needed, both to support the development and the transit center. That test could include charging for long-term parking, according to the memorandum of understanding between the agencies.
An economic analysis will then be conducted to determine whether the project makes financial sense. If so, Patchett said, a “request for qualifications” would be sent out to local developers, to gauge interest in the project and determine which developers would be able to carry it forward.
The project would likely include a combination of retail, office, residential and parking, Patchett said.
“If we get a nice development that’s at a scale the community likes and that makes sense from an economic viewpoint, it will enhance the Cedros district and the transit experience as well. It’s a win-win,” Patchett said.
The entire process is likely to take two to three years, Patchett said, and a key question is how to fund the needed parking. He said it is likely a combination of public and private funding would be needed.
According to Roberts, $2 million in federal funding is available that could be used to help parking for parking at the site.
Roberts envisions a signature, award-winning project that, along with Solana Beach’s other attractions such as its beaches and the Cedros Design District, could make the city a destination for visitors from downtown San Diego. In order to do that, he said, the transit district will need to increase the frequency of its Coaster trains and expand its schedule to include night and weekend trains.
By starting to plan now, he said, the project should be ready to move forward when the economy improves.
“I think it’s a very positive step forward,” Roberts said of the memorandum of understanding. “Both agencies see the importance of doing this the right way.”