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Encinitas council denies developer’s appeal, kills apartment project

A rendering of the proposed Encinitas Boulevard Apartment.
(Karen Billing)

City’s Planning Commission had rejected permits for proposed Olivenhain project

The city’s Planning Commission was right when it denied permits to a hugely controversial, massive apartment complex proposed for the western edge of Olivenhain, the City Council decided Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Council members unanimously voted to uphold the Planning Commission’s Aug. 19 decision and rejected the project developer Randy Goodson’s appeal.

The council also rejected a second appeal filed by the opponents’ group Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development. It contended that the Planning Commission should have denied Goodson’s permit requests on additional grounds, including fire safety issues.

The 277-unit, Encinitas Apartment development is proposed to go on a nearly 7-acre site near the busy Encinitas Boulevard and Rancho Santa Fe Road intersection. The proposed site is tucked somewhat behind the 7-11 shopping center and mostly visible from Rancho Santa Fe Road, but its main access route would be from Encinitas Boulevard via the private roadway McCain Lane.

The project’s proposed height of 69 feet — far higher than the city’s standard height limit of 39 feet — and its massive, multi-story appearance haven’t endeared it to people who live in the Olivenhain area, which is known for its upscale, single-family homes on large lots. Some two dozen project opponents spoke out against the development plans Wednesday, Nov. 10, many of them saying the large apartment complex would create a huge traffic bottleneck at a major roadway intersection during wildfire evacuation events.

Higher-density housing is allowed on the site because the property is on a list of places the city previously rezoned for multi-family housing. The question before the city’s Planning Commission and City Council has been whether Goodson’s apartment complex proposal ought to qualify for special exemptions from city building standards, including the city height limit, because 41 of the 277 units will be set aside for low-income people. Planning commissioners ruled that the project could have been designed differently, so it could still provide the low-income housing, yet wouldn’t need all the building code waivers and concessions.

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, the council agreed.

“I think the evidence points to the fact that the development does not need these waivers,” Councilman Joe Mosca said as he explained why he was voting to reject the developer’s appeal.

That’s a view that Goodson has strongly disputed. He contends the city-hired consultant’s analysis is faulty and has argued that the city doesn’t actually have the authority to reject his project, saying that it ought to be considered a “by-right” development under state housing laws.

His appeal, and that of the opponents’ group, was initially heard by the City Council last month, but the council delayed its decision in order to get more information about wildfire evacuation and roadway land ownership issues raised by the opponents. After hearing presentations from the city’s fire chief and city planning department employees, council members said Wednesday, Nov. 10, their questions had been addressed.

“I feel reassured by much of the information we’ve heard tonight,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said after the city’s fire chief stated that the opponents’ consultant had provided an extreme worst-case scenario.

Fire Chief Mike Stein told the council that the opponents’ consultant assumed everyone in the Olivenhain region would evacuate all at once, that three of the area’s four exit routes were blocked and that there was a massive fire right outside the Olivenhain area. That scenario produced “alarming” traffic congestion forecasts, but wasn’t realistic, he said.

His statements were hotly disputed by Olivenhain area residents and the newly-formed Concerned Citizens of Rancho Santa Fe. In a letter to council, the group argued that the Goodson project would impact public safety by clogging that escape route for Rancho Santa Fe and Olivenhain residents.

“During the 2007 fire, the roads of both communities were terribly congested with chaotic traffic trying to escape the smoke, flames, and panicked drivers. Horses were killed, citizens were burned, houses were destroyed,” said Rancho Santa Fe resident Holly Manion, representing the group. “That was fourteen years ago when we had far fewer people residing in our neighborhoods. If this project is allowed to be built, El Camino del Norte, Rancho Santa Fe Road, La Bajada, El Mirlo, La Noria, Lone Jack Road, to name just a few, will become death traps. We will never even make it to Encinitas Boulevard.”


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