Developers sought to build housing, retail shops and offices at North County train stations

A northbound Coaster train arrives at the Poinsettia train station in Carlsbad.
A northbound Coaster train arrives at the Poinsettia train station in Carlsbad.

(San Diego Union Tribune)

Transit District prepares to issue requests for proposals


North County Transit District is stepping up the search for developers to build housing, retail shops and offices at its Coaster and Sprinter stations.

The Carlsbad Village Station has more than 14 acres of transit district property, most of it used for parking, that could yield between 300 and 400 apartments or condominiums, a recent study showed. The development could bring the district $2.5 million to $4 million in annual revenue, primarily from property leases.

The smaller Poinsettia Station in Carlsbad has about 11.5 acres that could yield more than 140 apartments and generate $270,000 to $714,000 in annual revenue. Both stations would maintain their existing parking for train riders and provide additional parking for the development.

Building housing near train stations will increase public transit ridership and “benefits the economy, local government and society,” said Tracey Foster, chief development officer, in a presentation to the transit district’s board of directors.

Both Carlsbad sites are considered highly desirable locations, two blocks from the beach, near Interstate 5, and close to shopping, industrial parks and employment centers. The district plans to issue a request for proposals in April and recommend a developer to the board in September.

The district recently signed an agreement with Toll Brothers, Inc. to build as many as 547 market-rate units at the 10.2-acre Oceanside Transit Center. That project also includes more than 30,000 square feet of retail space, a new district administrative office building at the transit center that would replace the one on Mission Avenue in Oceanside, and up to 101 affordable apartments in a building that would replace the district offices on Mission Avenue.

Toll Brothers has started the entitlement process that will take about two years to complete for the Oceanside project, Foster said. Construction could begin after that.

The district also studied development possibilities for stations along the Sprinter rail line between Oceanside and Escondido.

Some of the best opportunities are at the four Oceanside stations at the western end of the Sprinter route, she said. Together those four stations have space for up to 86 apartments and could generate more than $1 million annually in ground lease revenue.

The district will look for contractors who could build at one or all four of the locations, Foster said. Work on a request for proposals for the Oceanside sites will begin in about a year.

Other possibilities exist at district properties in Vista, San Marcos and Escondido, she said. A new report on development proposed for the nearly 13-acre site at the Escondido Transit Center is expected in a few weeks.

“Our strategies include packaging the sites by municipalities and collaborating with our city partners,” Foster said.

If Solana Beach is any indication, transit-oriented development can be slow.

A 377-page draft environmental impact report released in 2006 described a project to be built around the quonset hut-style Solana Beach Transit Center, with underground parking, restaurants, shops, offices, 132 apartments and a performing arts center to be the new home of the North Coast Repertory Theater. Known as Cedros Crossing, the proposal died in 2008 when the Solana Beach City Council decided it was too much for the 5.6-acre site.

New proposals for the Solana Beach Transit Center were unveiled in 2015, and in 2016 the city selected a design submitted by architect Torgen Johnson, a Solana Beach resident. But so far there’s been no groundbreaking.

Talks with Solana Beach are continuing and “interest remains strong,” Foster said.

Transit district board members said they fully support the developments proposed for Coaster and Sprinter stations.

Christopher Rodriguez, an Oceanside City Council member, urged the district staff to work quickly and “give the developer more flexibility” to speed up the process and make money for the district.

“We need to make revenue,” Rodriguez said. “I would just encourage you to get it out as fast as you can.”

However, Corrina Contreras, the Vista City Council member on the board, offered a different view.

“This is really valuable land,” Contreras said. “I don’t believe that we need to leave it up to the private sector to do whatever they want. In my neck of the woods, that means we get no setbacks, it means that ... the population that utilizes transit corridors kind of get cheated out of urban amenities that they should get.”

Rents are rising rapidly and there’s a huge need for affordable housing, she said. Surveys show that people who live in affordable housing are the ones who most often ride public transit.

“I don’t want to give this land up with a myopic vision of just trying to generate the most revenue possible,” Contreras said. “We should really push for more affordable housing. It’s a crucial component to address homelessness as well.”

Revenue is important, but the district is financially healthy, she said.

“I want to make sure we take a long-term perspective on what is best built to grow our ridership and that will continue to provide revenue,” she said.

North County Transit District is not the first agency to see redevelopment as a way make money and to boost ridership.

The Metropolitan Transit System in San Diego broke ground on a five-floor, $106 million, 250-unit, market-rate residential project at the Grantville Trolley Station near San Diego State University in April 2021.

And this month MTS began construction of a related 124-unit affordable housing project in the Grantville area. The apartments, to be built by Affirmed Housing, will be reserved for households making 30 percent to 60 percent of the area’s median income, or $36,350 to $72,750 per year for a family of four.

California encourages transit-oriented development statewide as a way to reduce greenhouse gases, minimize automobile trips, increase public transit ridership and address the increasing housing shortage.

The strategy often includes incentives for developers such as permitting higher densities and less restrictive parking requirements within a quarter-mile of transportation hubs.