TOAD: Transit Oriented And Desirable

“There are only two things Americans don't like, density and sprawl.” --Rural Planner Randall Arendt

by Gary Piro

Several people have recently come to me complaining about the new high density development in south Carlsbad and its impact on the city. The new community they are referring to is developer Doug Avis' “Transit Oriented Development” project located next to the Carlsbad Poinsettia Coaster station.

    Friends think that I'll say it epitomizes the quintessential “cookie cutter” standard production project I'm always criticizing. How do I tell them that what they see as squiggles or blotches on a piece of paper, I see as a Van Gogh or a Picasso?

    This groundbreaking Poinsettia project may be the first legitimate “transit-oriented development” project in San Diego County and our first glimpse into the future.

    I feel compelled to praise this project, even though I wasn't lucky enough to be the designer. Like Sammy Sosa tipping his hat to Mark McGuire as he rounded the bases after hitting his 70th home run, I'm in the business and can appreciate Doug's accomplishment, knowing what difficulties he must have gone through to get approval and financing for a project like this.

    First of all, you have to understand that this developer could have taken the “high road” and simply applied for a development permit to put several standard 60-by-100-foot lots on the project and sold the project out for a tidy profit. Instead, he pursued a vision for a project that would provide an “alternative” for people who would like to live in an atmosphere that is common to East Coast or European cultures.

    The Local Government Commission (a “Livable Community” organization located in Sacramento) was so impressed by this project that is was the only San Diego area development they chose to praise in their newsletter last year. I thought this accolade was due to Avis' sales and PR efforts. However, after talking to Doug recently, I was amazed to know that he was unaware of this honor.

    The “Livable Community” group realizes that 500 residential units on 80 acres,  close to services, transit and recreation, can save over 1,000 acres of backcountry lands from production housing developments. This context is difficult to realize when you just look at the project as it sits on the ground. Also, this project's economical use of roads, utilities and public services makes the project one that will enrich Carlsbad's city coffers for years to come a fact that very few Carlsbad taxpayers will ever realize or appreciate. For good measure, included in the project is a 92-unit, city-administered “affordable housing” project that has a 2 year waiting list for eager renters.

    There is a motto in land development that says, “you want to be cutting edge, but not bleeding edge.” Although the proposed project had a higher lot yield than the developer would have otherwise realized, being the first “transit-oriented” project was a tremendous risk. Unlike Van Gogh (who never sold a painting in his lifetime), this developer was rewarded for his efforts by buyers who camped out at the opening of the first phase 3 years ago.

    Doug's success will most likely be the incentive for “copycats” to buy up heretofore undesirable lands in areas along our rail corridors and “revitalize” these areas without the need for government funds or incentives.

    Good job, Doug. San Diego needs more pioneers like you.

    Mr. Piro is a former County Planning Commissioner and the owner of a civil engineering and land-planning firm in San Marcos. Email: