The City of Carlsbad recently took ownership of a 61-acre piece of property, bisected at the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and Victoria Lane, as part of a lawsuit settlement involving the Quarry Creek housing project. Now that the city owns the property, the trail through the southern portion is officially open for public access. On April 23, 2019, the City Council directed city staff to “…initiate public outreach to engage residents in the development of a plan to integrate an off-leash dog run as part of the Village H property.”
City Council voted unanimously on April 14, 2020, to move forward with a hybrid concept plan for Village H South that will include an off-leash dog area while protecting sensitive habitat preserves and providing for wildlife movement.
The hybrid plan was developed with Preserve Calavera over the past few months. It will include an approximate 1 acre enclosed off-leash dog area and a parking lot and restroom near the corner of Victoria Avenue and Carlsbad Village Drive. With this plan, the initial segment of the west side of the trail loop will be removed, but the rest of the trail loop will remain unchanged.
The area east of the off-leash dog area and trail will remain open space that the city will maintain through weed abatement and routine monitoring intended to allow native vegetation to remain. Staff recommended the hours of operation of the off-leash dog area to be from 8 a.m. to sunset, the same as the Ann D. L’Heureux dog park.
A community meeting was held on June 29 to gather input on the future use of Village H South. An online survey was available until July 28 for those who couldn’t make the meeting or just preferred to provide input that way. Read the summary report and supporting appendices that provide an overview of the input received.
City staff originally developed four options for an off-leash dog run based on the input received from the community. City staff reviewed the opportunities and constraints detailed in all four options and developed one additional staff option. All options were presented to City Council on Dec. 10, 2019. City Council's direction at that point was to continue work with Preserve Calavera to consider refinements to the staff option.
Next Steps Next steps will include preparing a request for proposals for the environmental review process, agency permitting, master plan amendment processing and the drafting of plans and specifications.
Wildlife Movement Study
Village H South is part of an important wildlife movement corridor that connects core habitat areas. To get a better understanding of how Village H South is used by wildlife, people and domestic dogs, a wildlife movement study was conducted at the site using remote wildlife cameras, roadkill monitoring along the streets that border Village H and dog waste studies. Monitoring took place prior to and after the Village H South site was officially opened to the public on Aug. 1, 2019, to document potential changes in wildlife movement patterns. Studies are ongoing and wildlife monitoring will continue moving forward.
A half-mile trail runs through the southern section of this property that has long been planned to become part of the citywide trails system. Historically, when the property was privately owned, some community members used the trail as a place to walk with their dogs off leash. A previous owner put up a fence, locked gate and no trespassing signs, but the public continued to use the property. Under city and county laws, dogs on city trails must be on a maximum 6 foot leash, and dogs are not allowed in city parks, except dog parks. City staff presented a comprehensive overview of the issues involved at the April 23, 2019, City Council meeting. You can read the report or watch the presentation video.
Are dogs allowed to be off leash? Current county and city laws don’t allow dogs to be off leash on city trails, so initially, dogs will need to be leashed. Currently, dogs are not allowed (leashed or unleashed) in the open space and preserve areas adjacent to the trail.
What options will be considered for the long-term plan? There are about 13 acres that can be used by the public. The rest needs to be protected because it’s home to sensitive habitat. The 13 acres fall under the city’s open space designation, which includes park-like uses and trails.
What needs to be considered when planning the future use of this property? Community members have conveyed the important role this property plays in their quality of life. Gathering at the site increases their sense of community and social connection, provides an opportunity for children to be in nature, and allows four-legged family members to exercise and socialize too. The city’s goal is to maximize these benefits, while protecting sensitive habitat and allowing wildlife to move through the property:
The Village H South property is home to protected habitat managed by professional biologists to enable sensitive and endangered species to thrive. Since it's important that this land not be disturbed, certain "buffer areas" need to be considered when planning how the surrounding land is used. See a map of where the habitat is located on the site.
Another consideration is the creation and preservation of wildlife corridors. The city’s preserve system is intended to provide as many contiguous pieces of property as possible so wildlife can safely roam, just like they did hundreds of years ago, before the land was developed. Fences, roads and other structures interfere with these wildlife corridors.
Noise and Neighborhood Aesthetics
Neighbors who live along the borders of the southern section of the property (and within earshot) need to be consulted since they’ll be most directly affected by any change in use.
Legal Settlement The city acquired the Village H property as part of a settlement agreement over a lawsuit related to the Quarry Creek development. One of the conditions of the agreement is that the city “promptly allow public access to the historic public use trail through Village H.” Changing the location of the public trail or allowing dogs off leash within the current location of the public trail could be considered a violation of the agreement.
State and Federal Wildlife Agency Review Since the property
contains protected habitat areas, any change in use requires approval of state
and federal wildlife agencies.
Changing the land use on this property requires an amendment to the city’s General Plan, Calavera Hills Master Plan and the city Zoning Code. In addition, the new land use would require the approval of a Conditional Use Permit, Habitat Management Plan Permit and possibly a Hillside Development Permit.
A new use on this property would be required to undergo environmental review to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Municipal Code Update
Changing the rules for
what is allowed on a city trail (e.g., dogs off leash) requires an amendment to
the Carlsbad Municipal Code.
Cost Whatever is ultimately created at the southern section of this property will have a cost – both initially and on an ongoing basis. The city will need to estimate these costs and identify the source of funding.
How long will it take for the long-term plan to go into effect? If the long-term plan involves activities/amenities other than keeping this section of the property under currently allowable uses (only leashed dogs on the trail, and no dogs on the open space and preserve areas outside of the trail), various permits and approvals will be needed. Depending on the plan, it could take two to three years.
Why can’t the city change the use sooner? Whenever the city (or a private property owner) is considering a new land use, the proposed change needs to be evaluated for potential environmental impacts and to make sure the new use is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. Ultimately, the city’s Planning Commission will decide whether the new use meets city standards, and staff will then make a recommendation to the City Council. This process is not quick, but it’s important because changes in land use affect not just the land in question but surrounding property and the overall balance of land uses throughout the city.
Will the long-term plan include dogs being allowed off leash?
Many community members have expressed a strong desire to allow dogs off-leash, and the City Council has directed staff to work with the community to develop options for off leash use. Ultimately, the City Council will decide which option best meets the needs of the community, neighbors and the environment.
Motion by Council Member Schumacher, seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Bhat-Patel, directing staff to initiate public outreach to engage residents in the development of a plan to integrate an off-leash dog run as part of the Village H property. Staff was directed to commence the public outreach (as soon as the process of recording the deed is complete), over the subsequent 90 days and to include public noticing within 600 feet of the Village H property. Council Member Schumacher requests that staff engage and incorporate resident input about how best to integrate an off-leash dog run, not simply offer staff prepared options for residents to select from. Return to City Council in the fall with public/staff recommendations for consideration. Motion carried unanimously, 5/0.
“Accepting dedication of Calavera Hills Village H property (APN 167-101- . 19) from Presidio Cornerstone QC, LLC; authorizing execution of grant deed dedicating a portion of Calavera Hills Village H property to Calavera Hills Recreational Vehicle Park; and appropriating related one-time funds”