Encinitas approves revised housing project after state warns of action
Multistory Olivenhain complex will have 250 units
A somewhat revised, but still hugely controversial, multi-story apartment complex proposed for the southern edge of Olivenhain won City Council approval Wednesday, June 8, after months of pressure from state officials and litigation by the project’s developer.
The final design, which the council unanimously approved, calls for a 250-unit complex with 50 of the units set aside for low-income people. The previous proposal was for a 277-unit complex, with 41 low-income units. Other changes included eliminating one story of the structures closest to neighboring homes, plus a tweaking of the roof line in places.
All of the nearly 20 public speakers on the item, with the exception of the project’s developer, said the latest design changes did little to ease their many concerns, particularly about traffic congestion and wildfire evacuation issues, but council members said the new design was much better than the previous one.
And, they said, denying developer Randy Goodson the permits he needs to proceed now wasn’t really in the city’s best interests given state officials’ recent views about the conflict, plus the results of the Bankers Hill court case in San Diego. That court case, which project opponents lost, is being cited as precedent-setting when it comes to the legality of the state Density Bonus Law, which aims to increase California’s affordable housing options.
The “responsible thing to do” now is to approve the latest version of the Encinitas Apartments plans, Councilmember Tony Kranz said, stressing that the city’s chances of winning a lawsuit are very remote given the Bankers Hill case.
Both Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Councilmember Kellie Shay Hinze said the city needs the extra housing units that the project would provide, but emphasized that it hasn’t been easy to get to this point. Blakespear called it a “long and torturous process;” Hinze said it was “long and really painful.”
Councilmember Joe Mosca noted that much has happened just in the last six months, including court case activity and state official involvement. In March, the state attorney general’s office announced that it was taking a keen interest in the Encinitas Apartments plans and would hold the city accountable if it failed to approve what was expected to be a soon-to-be revised proposal. Earlier in the year, state housing officials informed Encinitas that it also risked having its approval of its state-mandated housing plan revoked if it didn’t change the way it was handling the situation.
The Encinitas Apartments development is proposed to go on a nearly 7-acre, mostly vacant site located near the busy Encinitas Boulevard and Rancho Santa Fe Road intersection. While the site is mostly visible from Rancho Santa Fe Road near the 7-11 shopping center, the main access point is proposed to be Encinitas Boulevard via the private McCain Lane.
Much of the surrounding neighborhood consists of upscale homes on large lots, and neighbors have fiercely fought the development plans, which would include some five- and six-story structures that reach up to 60 feet tall. The previous version of the development plans were rejected by the city’s Planning Commission last August, and the City Council denied the developer’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision in November. After the council denied the appeal, the developer sued and state officials started weighing in on the issue.
Over 100 members of the Concerned Citizens of Rancho Santa Fe were among those who raised opposition to the complex, based on its threats to public safety during a wildfire evacuation. The Rancho Santa Fe Association stated in a letter to council that there has been no comprehensive fire evacuation, traffic or fire behavior studies done to evaluate the impacts of the development on Rancho Santa Fe residents, neighbors to the east and the hundreds of trailers that would be required to carry large animals, all sharing the same Encinitas evacuation routes.
“While it is important to provide affordable housing, California must also protect communities from our increasingly large and intense wildfires,” said Rancho Santa Fe resident Holly Manion.
Adding high-density housing, the Association wrote, should never put nearby community members in harm’s way.
On June 8, council members were tasked with reconsidering their November denial and accepting the newly revised development plans.
Goodson emphasized to the council that his latest design reduces the height of the buildings closest to the neighboring homes. He also mentioned the various improvements that the project will provide to nearby roadways, and stressed that his project will provide more low-income housing than he is required to do in order to meet state Density Bonus Law standards.
“We really are hopeful that you follow state law and the city’s own commitment (to its housing plan),” he concluded.
Councilmember Joy Lyndes said she felt the latest version of the plans was an improvement over the version the city rejected last year.
“I like what I’ve seen today,” she said, mentioning that the elimination of one of the stories near the existing homes was significant.
-Karen Billing contributed to this report.
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