Rick Caruso plans to preserve most of Carlsbad property as open space

L.A. developer Rick Caruso plans 26-acre shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation promenade in Carlsbad

Prominent Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso took another step toward the construction of a large retail and entertainment center in Carlsbad on Tuesday with the announcement that he planned to preserve most of the property as open space.

The move was intended to allay community concerns. Caruso first announced plans for an outdoor shopping center in Carlsbad in 2012. Since then he has met with local residents and officials to formulate a mutually agreeable plan, he said.

"We have learned that Carlsbad wants new access to open space, preservation of its beloved strawberry farming and additional ways to enjoy Carlsbad," Caruso said. The plan, he said, "will accomplish all of these goals, while preserving and protecting the lagoon, coastal habitat and agriculture."

Caruso, who built the outdoor Grove shopping center in Los Angeles, has a contract to buy 203 acres of land at the intersection of Interstate 5 and Cannon Road in Carlsbad from San Diego Gas & Electric Co., pending approval of his proposed project.

The land is on the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, a 400-acre coastal wetland in north San Diego County, where tides ebb and flow with the Pacific Ocean.

He calls it the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan because it would preserve 85% of the land — 176 acres — as open space while developing the remaining 15%.

The open space is to include "significant" acreage dedicated to strawberry farming and other agricultural uses, Caruso said, and will also have miles of new hiking trails and picnic areas. Revenue from the proposed shopping center would pay for maintenance of the open space.

Details about the proposed 26-acre shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation promenade will be announced in coming weeks.

Caruso hopes his proposal will be approved by the Carlsbad City Council or in a public election, he said. The California Coastal Commission would also have to sign off before construction could begin.

Support for the proposal was announced Tuesday by the San Diego Farm Bureau and the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group.

"This plan lays the groundwork for a unique alliance between the agriculture community and local environmental advocates," said Maureen Simons, chairwoman of lagoon foundation. "We are particularly impressed that the plan includes new filtration systems and environmentally friendly designs that protect the lagoon, at no cost to taxpayers, while safeguarding the watershed, habitat and wildlife."

roger.vincent@latimes.com

Twitter: @rogervincent

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