Encinitas delays decision on La Costa housing project


Over the strong objections of the property owner's representative, the Encinitas Planning Commission delayed a vote Thursday, Feb. 7, on permits related to a proposed 48-unit housing project next to Batiquitos Lagoon.

As they made their decision to continue the controversial item to their March 14 meeting, the commissioners cited two reasons for doing so.

First, they said they hadn't yet had time to make it through the 3,500-plus pages of documents related to the project, particularly its proposed Environmental Impact Report. And, second, they noted there were only three of them present to discuss the issue that night -- Chairman Glenn O'Grady and Commissioners Kevin Doyle and Bruce Ehlers.

Doyle, Ehlers and O'Grady all said they hadn't read anywhere near as many of the project-related documents as they wished.

"I scanned a lot of it, but I don't feel I've done my best job," Ehlers said.

Doyle said he felt voting on the proposal would be "like signing a contract I haven't yet read," while O'Grady noted that he had a severe cold and wanted more time to go through the paperwork with a clear head. However, he stressed that he wasn't necessarily opposed to the project, mentioning, "To be honest, I'm not finding a lot of problems with this."

The commission's action, which came after the developer's presentation and public comment by five people opposed to the project, was met with a strong objection from David Meyer, the consultant for the family that owns the proposed housing development site.

Meyer said the development plans have been in the works for four years now, and urged the commission to just make a decision one way or another. He also said he didn't believe the commission had the right to delay its decision that night, but city officials disagreed with this position.

The proposed project is in its initial approval stages. Commissioners are being asked to vote on subdivision plans that would allow the creation of a 48-unit housing development and its accompanying private roads on a nearly 14-acre area along La Costa Avenue just west of Interstate 5. The actual design plans for the individual homes would need to be submitted at a later date.

The land has been owned by the Weston family for decades, and while the family members plan to continue to live on part of the area, they want to transition the greenhouses on the rest of the land into housing, Meyer said.

"We're really excited about this project and what the future homes will be," he told the commissioners.

He said the project could have been far more dense, mentioning that at one point the family considered a 400-unit apartment project.

Neighboring homeowners and a representative for the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation told the commission they weren't at all pleased by the current plans, saying they worried about environmental harm to the lagoon as well as traffic congestion issues on La Costa Avenue.

The project has been controversial because its developers are proposing to take advantage of provisions in the state's density bonus laws that let them put more homes than would normally be allowed in exchange for setting aside some of those units for low-income people. Four of the 48 homes are proposed to be set aside for low-income residents.

-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune