Quarry Creek - A Carlsbad Conundrum
El Salto Falls look like something you would expect to see in San Diego’s backcountry, with water foaming down over tall granite ledges to a creek below. But these falls are just minutes from busy Highway 78 in North County.
The waterfall narrowly avoided being graded over to make way for commercial development, but survived intact. The creek is now surrounded by graded pads, that are waiting for hundreds of new homes.
Todd Galarneau is Senior Project Manager with McMillin, the developer. Galarneau said the City of Carlsbad’s Habitat Management Plan specified 45 percent of the overall site of Quarry Creek should remain open space.
“But we flipped that,” he said. “We provide 56 percent open space and only 44 percent of the site is developed. At the same time, we protect Buena Vista Creek, El Salto Falls and all the history and cultural resources on the site, so we think it strikes a very good balance.”
Galarneau said McMillin needs to build 656 units in this valley to make the project viable. The City of Carlsbad needs just 500 homes to meet its commitment for affordable housing.
Van Lynch, a senior planner for Carlsbad, said that’s why the project is so important for the city.
“We have the housing element that talks about 500 units here,” he explained, “It is a good site for housing as it’s adjacent to commercial services, hospitals, you’ve got the junior colleges, you’ve got the transportation corridor, Highway 78, bus service to the area, so it is a natural site for higher density housing.”
The graded land on the site of the old rock quarry near the El Salto Falls would fit 500 homes. But because McMillin plans to build 650 units, the houses would stretch down the valley along Buena Vista Creek. This portion of the project, called “the panhandle,” runs right past the old Marron Adobe. The hacienda was built in 1839, and was one of the original Mexican land grants.
Standing near the spacious porch with its characteristic arches, local resident Diane Nygaard, pointed to a map of the proposed development.
“We are at the adobe,” she said, “looking across the valley, and the panhandle extends all the way across this view."
The L shaped Marron Adobe sits right below the freeway, but the porch is quiet and the view out across the valley is peaceful.
Nygaard said Carlsbad’s open space committee earlier identified this valley as the number one piece of open space to save in the whole city, but the landowner, Hanson Aggregates, had already agreed to sell the land to McMillin.
“So we’re saying, take the number of houses that would be here, move them over here,” Nygaard said, pointing back toward the graded land where the quarry once operated. “Or reduce the number of units.”
Because of the fresh water creek and the coastal Buena Vista lagoon only three miles away, Nygaard said native people have lived in this valley for thousands of years.
“People who really study our local history, Save Our Heritage Organization, SOHO, have identified this as one of the 12 most important endangered historic sites in all of San Diego County,” she said. “so that makes it pretty significant. It’s not just a local Carlsbad site, it’s not just North County, it’s a key part of early California history, so it makes it really important to all of us. “
“We think there’s a way everyone can come out of this whole,” she added, “The developer just doesn’t come out with huge windfall profits.”
But Todd Galarneau of McMillin said building all the homes on the already graded land of the old quarry site is just not feasible.
“What occurs is that the units become smaller,“ he said, “they become more dense, and there’s more three story units, and as a consequence the average sales price drops significantly. And what is really not intuitive is there is not a corresponding drop in project costs.”
Galarneau said the price of the homes wouldn’t cover the cost of developing roads, utilities and traffic mitigation. The developer is offering up to $2 million in traffic mitigation measures to the City of Oceanside, which will see much worse traffic congestion from the added homes than the City of Carlsbad.
“We’ve analyzed various different alternatives in response to input we’ve received from the community, “ Galarneau said, “and we do not believe that there is an economically viable development plan that doesn’t include some reasonable use of the panhandle property. “
Nygaard isn’t giving up.
“Our vision is for what we call ‘the waterfall to the waves trail,’” she said. “We could have a trail all the way from the sacred waterfall at the head of the valley, through this entire area all the way to the coast. It’s still possible. If we lose this, then those things are no longer possible.”
Carlsbad’s Planning Commission will consider its options tonight before sending a recommendation to the full city council.