Developers attempted to build homes, retail stores, and offices at North County train stations

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North County Transit District is intensifying its search for developers to build homes, retail stores and offices at its Coaster and Sprinter stations.

Carlsbad Village Station has more than 14 acres of land in the Transit District, mostly used for parking, that could yield between 300 and 400 apartments or condos, 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 produce more than 140 homes and generate $270,000 to $714,000 in annual revenue. Both stations would retain their existing parking spaces for train riders and provide additional parking spaces 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 company’s board of directors transit district.

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

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

According to Foster, Toll Brothers has begun the eligibility process, which will take about two years for the Oceanside project. After that, construction could begin.

The district was also studying station development opportunities along the Sprinter rail route between Oceanside and Escondido.

Some of the best opportunities are at the four Oceanside stations at the west end of the Sprinter route, she said. Combined, these four stations have space for up to 86 apartments and could generate more than $1 million in leasehold income annually.

The county will be looking for contractors who could build at any or all four sites, Foster said. Work on a tender for the Oceanside locations will begin in about a year.

Other opportunities exist in county lots in Vista, San Marcos and Escondido, she said. A new report on the development of the nearly 13-acre site at the Escondido Transit Center is expected in a few weeks.

“Our strategies include bundling sites by community and working 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 detailed a project to be built around the Solana Beach Transit Center in the style of a Quonset cabin, with underground parking, restaurants, shops, offices, 132 homes and a center for performing arts as the new home of the North Coast Repertory Theatre. Known as the Cedros Crossing, the proposal died in 2008 when the Solana Beach City Council decided it was too much for the 5.6-acre site.

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

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

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

Christopher Rodriguez, a member of the Oceanside City Council, urged district employees to work quickly and “to give the developer more flexibility” to expedite the process and make money for the district.

“We need to generate revenue,” Rodriguez said. “I just want to encourage you to get it out as soon as possible.”

However, Corrina Contreras, the Vista City Council executive, took a different view.

“This is really valuable land,” said Contreras. “I don’t think we have to leave it to the private sector to do what it wants. In my neck of the woods, that means we don’t get kickbacks, it means that … populations using transit corridors are being cheated of urban amenities they should be getting.”

Rents are rising rapidly and there is a great need for affordable housing, she said. Surveys show that people who live in affordable housing are most likely to use public transport.

“I don’t want to abandon this country with a short-sighted vision of just trying to get the most revenue possible,” Contreras said. “We should really work for more affordable housing. It’s a critical component to tackling homelessness as well.”

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

“I want to make sure we’re taking a long-term view of what’s best for growing our ridership, and that’s going to continue to bring in revenue,” she said.

The North County Transit District isn’t the first agency to see the redevelopment as an opportunity to make money and increase ridership.

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

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

California is promoting transportation-centric development nationwide to reduce greenhouse gases, minimize car trips, increase public transit ridership, and address the growing housing shortage.

The strategy often includes incentives for developers, such as B. Allowing for higher densities and less restrictive parking requirements within a quarter mile of interchanges.

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