San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy buys parcel for open space

By Joe Tash

The nonprofit San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy has purchased a parcel with lagoon and ocean views — where developers in the past had proposed building a hotel or condos — and plans to designate it as permanent open space.

The conservancy was loaned the $3.75 million purchase prices for the 3.4-acre parcel by members of the conservancy and the local community, said Doug Gibson, the conservancy’s executive director. A fundraising drive will be launched early next year to pay the money back.

The property is located on the east side of Coast Highway, just inside the city of Solana Beach’s northern boundary, and along the southern edge of the San Elijo Lagoon.

According to Gibson, public controversy over a developer’s proposal to build a hotel on the site helped fuel the successful drive for Solana Beach cityhood in 1986.

For various reasons, no project was ever built on the land, and it ended up in a bank’s hands after a foreclosure. The conservancy had been keeping an eye on the property, and decided to bid on it when it came up for sale.

Gibson said he and other conservancy members believed, “This is really our last chance. Otherwise someone will grab it with the wherewithal to develop it and we’re going to lose it forever.”

The conservancy plans to leave the land basically as-is, Gibson said.

“I see walking paths with native habitat, and maybe educational signs and a viewing deck looking out over the ocean and the lagoon, to really be a gateway to the lagoon and city of Solana Beach,” Gibson said.

The struggling economy helped put the property within the conservancy’s reach — according to Mayor Joe Kellejian, it had been worth $10-$12 million when the real estate market was stronger.

“It is just a great piece of property. It has a pristine view of the ocean and the lagoon. What a wonderful thing that we’re able to preserve that forever (as open space),” Kellejian said.

Gibson said he expected the sale to be finalized on Wednesday.