Transit District to seek proposals on expanded footprint for Solana Beach train station property

After a lack of interest from developers the first time around, Solana Beach and the North County Transit District are aiming to develop the train station property with an expanded plan.

In an unanimous vote, the City Council on Nov. 19 supported the district in reissuing a request for proposals to convert the Solana Beach Transit Center and some of the adjacent surface parking at Lomas Santa Fe Drive and North Cedros Avenue into offices, a restaurant and an underground parking structure.

“It really gives the developer an opportunity to make better use of the site, while saving some space at the northern end for future development and parking, if needed,” said Councilman Mike Nichols. “I’m encouraged to see this move forward with a much broader footprint for development.”

Although a request for proposals was issued earlier this year to develop the train station and the vacant 1.2-acre corner lot, only two were submitted, and one was received after the May deadline. NCTD returned both proposals unopened after determining “that one proposal was not sufficient to determine the best use of the site,” explained City Manager David Ott.

Since then, city staff, NCTD staff and council liaisons Nichols and Lesa Heebner have determined the lack of interest was partly because the site was too small and constrained to build an adequate, financially viable development, Ott said. In addition, a requirement to build and finance 75 underground transit parking spaces and an underground structure to support the development also created financing challenges.

“It’s very well designed, and something that the community has already embraced,” Heebner said.

In accordance with the initial request, the station will be repurposed, rather than demolished, for use as a restaurant, retail space or transit-oriented shop. Ticket sales and other train services will be relocated to the train track level. According to the new request, however, the project will be phased and include the same area plus about one-third of the parking lot north of the station.

NCTD will fund part of an underground parking structure during phase one, which now comprises about 2.6 acres. Although the 300-space facility is intended for transit users and the greater public, the city could help cover some of the costs so employees from nearby businesses could also use it.

Ott noted that the city has held a series of workshops with business and property owners and other community members over the past year regarding possible parking solutions for Coast Highway 101 and the Cedros Design District.

“We felt that this might be a great opportunity to address some of those issues,” he said.

The train station site has been a point of contention in the past. After seven years in the works, the council in late 2008 determined that a controversial $72 million mixed-use project called Cedros Crossing was incompatible with the city’s general plan.

“This has been a great work in process,” said NCTD Executive Director Matthew Tucker. “Understanding the history of the project really teaches the importance of us working together to achieve a project outcome that meets the vision of the city as well as our transportation needs.”

“It’s a project where we get a chance to collaborate” with NCTD, added Solana Beach resident Gary Martin. “They’re interested in protecting the community’s character (and) they’re interested in protecting the neighborhood, at the same time, trying to accomplish their goals that won’t have those negative impacts. That’s a big switch from where we were in 2007, when NCTD had a completely different attitude about what was good for anybody else but themselves.”

Officials expect to release the request for proposals Dec. 1, with a Feb. 27 deadline. The NCTD board of directors could approve an agreement at its Oct. 15, 2015 meeting.