The Carlsbad City Council faces a classic dilemma Tuesday night. Will they approve a plan to build 656 housing units in the most pristine natural landscape in the city? SANDAG calls it smart growth and will provide substantial financial rewards to cities that build attractive neighborhoods near transit, retail and commercial services.

On the other hand, Carlsbad residents passed Prop C in 2002, requiring the city to set aside money from its millions in reserve funds to acquire open space. A citizen's committee put Quarry Creek at the top of its list for preservation.

The developer boasts over half the property in the Buena Vista Creek valley will remain untouched, while Quarry Creek is ideal for housing--near services, shopping, employment and transit.

Unlike your typical NIMBY, Diane Nygaard, representing Preserve Calavera, suggests a compromise. The planned site extends into the panhandle well beyond the immediate area west of Walmart, reaching into the valley and encroaching on the Marron Adobe. She wants the building site to be moved east, either by increasing the density of housing, or reducing the number of units. The city says it only needs 500 units to meet the city's goal to increase affordable housing.

The developer claims reducing the number or size of the living units will render their plan "financially unfeasible." Project costs, including developer fees for roads, utilities and traffic mitigation, would remain unchanged, while the average unit sales price would fall significantly.

They City Planning Commission reviewed the proposal earlier this month, approving a reduction in the number of units to 600 and sparing a small part of the panhandle from development. The Commission didn't have access to the financials addressing the project's feasibility when it took that vote.

Before voting Tuesday night the council should produce evidence the project will not produce windfall profits from sacrificing precious open space. If it appears preservation of the panhandle will truly make the project financially unprofitable, council members should consider reducing or subsidizing developer fees to enable the project's reasonable profitability.

Smart growth doesn't have to be dumb growth.

Richard Riehl writes from LaCosta. Contact him at fogcutter1@yahoo.com

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