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'Village' Proposed for Oceanside Bluff


A 20-acre, $89-million "European hillside village" that would include townhouses, restaurants and shops has been proposed for the northern entrance to long-suffering downtown Oceanside.

City officials expect the Seawalk Village project, on a bluff with a rarefied view of Oceanside Harbor, the San Luis Rey River and the sea, will boost the city's ambitious but slow-going redevelopment effort.

Redevelopment Director Patricia Hightman said Tuesday, "This is a major entry point to the city. We'll make a gorgeous entry statement."

The project was introduced a year ago, but the development company, P-H Oceanside Ltd., has just completed a master plan and marketing studies to bring before the City Council.

The council, acting as the city's Community Development Commission, will study the proposal today and probably order a 90-day administrative review before deciding whether to begin negotiating a development agreement.

Developer Mark Hughes said Tuesday that he and partner John Prewitt decided on a mixture of architectural styles because "we wanted the flavor of a European hillside village."

It would be located south of the San Luis Rey River, east of the railroad tracks, north of 8th Street and immediately west of Hill Street, which is the main street through downtown Oceanside.

Plans call for 366 units ranging in price from $128,000 for a one-bedroom dwelling to $500,000 for a penthouse; 38,500-square-feet for restaurants and boutiques; and 83 time-share units or hotel rooms.

If approved, construction of the three-phased project would begin next January at the earliest and be completed over five years.

A marketing study by the Meyers Group said the site "is a magnificent property, one of the dwindling number of significant oceanfront properties in Southern California."

The site is amid some of the best and worst that Oceanside has to offer.

It is near the scenic harbor and pricey coastal condos but is also flush against a downtown commercial strip suffering from blight, crime and a lingering reputation as a hangout for young Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton.

Although redevelopment has made strides in Oceanside with a $33-million Civic Center, upscale coastal condos and more, progress has been slow.

A building ban on the South Strand, the coastal strip south of the pier, is on the verge of being lifted after a decade of waiting. And a much-desired, $300-million commercial-hotel-residential project on 10-acres just east of the pier is still on the drawing boards.

However, Hightman is confident that progress is being made and that Seawalk Village would draw new residents to stimulate the downtown's economy.

"I think it's extremely exciting," she said.

Despite city officials' enthusiasm, the project remains in early stages and must leap environmental, planning and financial hurdles.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Mayor Larry Bagley, who hastened, "They have a long way to go before any hard decisions are made by the city."

On the environmental front, the project would have a scenic 50- to 100-foot buffer zone between it and the river, and Hightman said development would "be compatible and stay away from the wetlands area."

Hughes and Prewitt own about 13 acres of the 20-acre site and are talking with neighboring property owners to secure additional acreage for the project.

The developers have proposed a land exchange with the Miramar Village Trailer Park south of the site. A land swap, which Hughes said would give both Seawalk Village and the mobile home park a better configuration, would require relocating 17 coaches.

Financing is still being arranged and the developers are seeking an equity partner and a city redevelopment subsidy to make the project financially possible. A $5.3-million subsidy has been mentioned, but Hughes said the actual amount and terms of the subsidy haven't been worked out yet.

Hughes emphasized that Seawalk Village will generate financial rewards for Oceanside, including property and sales tax revenues, and $4 million to $5 million in permit processing fees. He said the project will also create construction jobs.

He believes the proposal will escape the ravages of the recession and be completed as the market is recovering. "It looks right now that we'll start to deliver product into a rising (economic) cycle," he said.

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