After more than five years of haggling, the Carlsbad City Council has given its blessing to a massive resort and housing project planned for the northern side of the scenic Batiquitos Lagoon by the billionaire Hunt brothers of Dallas.
In a series of unanimous votes on various planning documents, the council gave the go-ahead late Tuesday for the $1-billion Pacific Rim Country Club and Resort, which, when completed, will have more than 2,800 residential units as well as a number of commercial structures.
While the 1,000-acre project has been the focus of much debate over the years, the council uncharacteristically remained virtually mute in granting approval.
Just prior to the series of votes, only Councilwoman Ann Kulchin took the opportunity to deliver a mild critique of the project, boasting that she was the council member who most often "took the Hunts to the woodshed" during the drawn-out negotiations on the deal and was "glad I did it."
Hunt Officials Elated
Officials at Hunt Properties Inc., who have been pushing the development proposal since it was unveiled in the early 1980s by oilmen Herbert and Nelson Bunker Hunt at a Texas-style barbecue in Carlsbad, were elated by the approval.
"We're absolutely delighted," said Larry Clemens, the Hunt Properties vice president who has served as the Dallas-based firm's local representative. "It was a lot of hard work. We essentially came from a negative position several years ago . . . to the positive position we have in the community today."
Clemens said Hunt Properties officials plan to present the project before the state Coastal Commission in April and, if all goes well, begin grading and construction in June.
When completed in about a decade, the development will include a 254-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course, extensive banquet and meeting facilities as well as a major athletic complex with 12 tennis courts, Olympic-size pool and health club. The initial phase is to involve construction of the hotel, golf course and about 1,500 residential units.
65% Detached Homes
Hunt Properties officials say about 65% of the units will be detached homes that will likely range from about $300,000 up to $1 million.
The huge project on the northern shore of the Lagoon has run a bureaucratic gauntlet since the Hunts began assembling the property in the late 1970s.
As initially envisioned by the brothers, best known for their reputed attempt to corner the international silver market in 1980, the development was to include 5,400 homes. City officials complained at the time that the developers had failed to take environmental concerns into consideration, arguing that the project was too dense for the shores of an ecologically sensitive wetland.
By last year, Hunt Properties had drafted a revised plan calling for construction of 4,300 homes, but that proposal was blocked when the city approved a strict growth management ordinance.
Even Greater Reduction
With the new growth-management law in place, the number of dwelling units allowed in the project was reduced even further--to the current total.
In addition, the developers became a focal point of controversy in 1986 when they refused to donate more than 300 acres of land in Batiquitos Lagoon so a restoration project could go forward. That dispute has since been diffused, with the Hunts promising to turn over the land as soon as they receive the final go-ahead to build.
The year-long delay that resulted when the city approved its growth management plan had one positive benefit for the project--it allowed the firm to mount a potent public relations blitz featuring glossy mass-mailed brochures, a snappy video presentation on a local cable television channel, several open houses for nearby homeowners and a party for backers of the project.
Among the aspects of the project often ballyhooed by Hunt Properties executives are the public improvements that are a part of the deal--a 13-acre school site, a $12-million east-west highway designed to reduce traffic on busy La Costa Boulevard, park sites and the public sports center.
All that helped convince many residents in the community that Pacific Rim would be a boon for Carlsbad. Last month, the project sailed through the Planning Commission, as residents came and testified in favor of the development.
Residents flooded the council chambers for Tuesday's council hearing on the project, many of them speaking in favor of the development.
Other residents, however, expressed concerns about the traffic impacts of the project on their homes. Environmental advocates, meanwhile, urged the council to ensure that Batiquitos Lagoon is protected from silt runoff during construction of the project.