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Encinitas council delays decision on Olivenhain apartment complex

RSF Association President Bill Weber addresses Encinitas City Council on Oct. 13.
(Karen Billing)

Plans call for 277 units wrapped around a six-story parking garage just outside of Rancho Santa Fe

After four hours of public comments and debate, Encinitas City Council postponed its decision late Wednesday night, Oct. 13, on two sets of appeals regarding the controversial 277-unit apartment complex proposed for the southern edge of Olivenhain.

Debate on the item was continued to the City Council’s Nov. 10 meeting.

“There’s just conflicting data, so I would like to have that clarified,” Councilman Tony Kranz, who made the motion to postpone, said as he discussed one of two issues he wanted more information about.

All of the council members indicated that they might be inclined to reject the project developer’s appeal of a Aug. 19 city Planning Commission decision, which denied the project the permits that it needs to proceed. Several council members indicated that they also might consider issues raised by the opponents’ group Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, which filed its own appeal of the Planning Commission decision.

The ERRD citizens’ group argues that the planning commissioners should have rejected the development plans on additional grounds, including regional wildfire evacuation concerns and issues with the way the site’s boundary lines are drawn.

On Wednesday night, Oct. 13, Kranz said he wanted more information about the fire evacuation route issue and whether the developer, Randy Goodson, should have used part of the land under Rancho Santa Fe Road when he did his allowable housing density calculations.

Proposed for a nearly 7-acre site at Encinitas Boulevard and Rancho Santa Fe Road, the Encinitas Apartments project is the latest in a series of controversial, large-scale plans considered for the site. About a decade ago, Goodson proposed constructing a cluster of buildings containing shops, offices and apartments, along with 13 single-family homes.

His latest Encinitas Apartments plans call for constructing multiple apartment buildings wrapped around a giant, six-story parking garage structure. Buildings on the site would top out at nearly 70 feet tall, far higher than the city’s standard height limit of 39 feet for pitched-roof structures, and they’re going into a site that backs up to a region known for upscale, single-family homes on large lots. The proposed site is somewhat tucked behind the 7-Eleven shopping center and mostly visible from Rancho Santa Fe Road, but its main access route would be from Encinitas Boulevard via the private road McCain Lane.

High-density housing is allowed on the site because the property is on a list of places the city previously rezoned for multi-family housing under the guidelines of a state-mandated, housing planning document. The question before the City Council is whether Goodson’s project qualifies for special waivers and development concessions because 41 of the 277 units will be set aside for low-income people. Goodson is seeking exemptions from city height limits, parking standards, utility line undergrounding requirements and storage space requirements, among other things.

At the Oct. 13 hearing, Goodson argued, as he has in the past, that the city doesn’t have the authority to deny the project the permits it needs to proceed because the proposed development should be considered a “by-right” project under state law.

He also contended that the Planning Commission’s recent denial was based on a faulty analysis produced by city-hired consultants. The consultants’ analysis, which found that Goodson could redesign the project to make it lower in height while still containing the same number of apartments, “won’t hold up” in court, Goodson said, so he encouraged council members to “find the strength to do what’s best for the city.”

Some 30 people spoke to the council during public comment, with the vast majority opposed to the project.

Among them was Rancho Santa Fe Association President Bill Weber, who spoke out against not just the project’s density and impact on dark skies but the risk the project poses to evacuation routes out of Olivenhain and Rancho Santa Fe.

“We are very concerned about the extreme risk of people trying to escape wildfires,” Weber said. “If approved as previously proposed, it will present a very real danger to our members as well as to your own neighbors in the increasing likelihood of wildfires.”

Rancho Santa Fe resident Beth Nelson, a member of the San Dieguito Planning Group said the project has numerous issues of concern but most important is the fire danger.

“It’s safe to say if this were in our jurisdiction and we were advising the county…we would not recommend approval,” Nelson said. “This is not even a close call. I realize there’s pressure from Sacramento to squeeze in more housing but that must not be at all costs, it must not override public safety. Those who will pay the price in the event of a fire will be the local residents.”

Council members also said they’d received “hundreds” of e-mails on the issue. One thing that all parties appeared to agree on was that the battle is likely to end up in the courtroom.

Moments before midnight as the council voted to continue the item, Goodson said the council had just created more fodder for court cases. He said he believed the council’s decision to continue debate on the item violated state law because, by his count, the city has already held the maximum number of public hearings it’s allowed to have — a view the city’s planning department disputed.

“You’ll do what you’ll do and we’ll do what we do,” Goodson responded, indicating that the city was likely to hear from his attorneys.

-Karen Billing contributed to this report


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