Carlsbad City Council Approves Agua Hedionda Lagoon Project

The Carlsbad City Council approved a controversial retail development Tuesday after protesters gathered at City Hall to ask officials to deny it.

The project, a fancy outdoor shopping center slated for 2016 construction, overlooks the Agua Hedionda Lagoon where the Carlsbad strawberry fields once grew.

If the council hadn't approved the project, it would have been put it on a special elections ballot, or they could have delayed the decision.

A ballot measure in Carlsbad could cost between $450,000 and $550,000, a city spokeswoman said.

"I think that the people of Carlsbad need to vote on this. I think the city council's fair, but I also believe that Caruso is underestimating the people that don't agree with this, and I say, 'Time to meet the family,'" said Carlsbad resident Sue Igoe.

Many residents gathered at City Hall to make a public comment, so the 4 p.m. meeting went late into the night. A decision was not made until after 10 p.m.

The shopping center will now be built on about 30 acres, leaving some 170-acres of the fields preserved, according to the developer.

Developer Rick Caruso said he plans nature trails, amphitheaters, places for people to enjoy the view and an outdoor classroom.

The retail portion of the project would include a "farm-to-table" restaurant.

The project got before the City Council for a vote without the typical extensive environmental review, known as CEQA.

The developer was able to bypass that process, which allows for a substantial public input and often involves concessions or mitigations to be made by the developer. He did that by running a signature drive. Caruso gathered enough citizen signatures for the council to simply sign off on the project.

If successful, the same strategy may be used by other developers hoping to skip the lengthy and time-consuming CEQA process.

"I can't speak to what other developers might do," said Bryce Ross with Caruso Development Corp. "We've done everything the right way. We provided the city with a comprehensive environmental analysis. The city did their own impartial review of that analysis and found it to be consistent with the city's planning and development standards."

Opponents believed if they could put it to a vote, they would have been able to stop it at the ballot box, which would send the developer back to the beginning of the process.

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