Controversial 10-home project reaches Encinitas council

(File photo)

A highly contested 10-home development proposed for an Encinitas neighborhood faces City Council review Wednesday, Jan. 22.

The meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 505 S. Vulcan Ave.

Bonita Drive Homes received the city Planning Commission’s endorsement in November.

The buildings would be placed on a 2.4-acre lot at 754 Bonita Drive. The site is located in a residential community north of Santa Fe Drive, south of Encinitas Boulevard and west of El Camino Real, an area identified as Old Encinitas.

The commission’s decision prompted neighbors, including many organized as Bonita Integration Action, to file an appeal with the aim of overturning the panel’s action.

“I’m just hopeful that the city takes this opportunity to do what is right in this circumstance and not capitulate to the developers,” said Jessica Carilli, an environmental scientist who is one of BIA’s leaders.

The commission’s 5-0 vote came at the end of its third hearing over the project. Those sessions included hours of discussion. Before that, the project proponents had conducted some community meetings that failed to resolve differences with neighbors.

As proposed, the project would consist of nine new homes that would be two-stories high with at least four bedrooms each and range in floor area from 4,608 square feet to 5,138 square feet.

They would be situated on mostly vacant land, with access from Bonita, a dead-end side street that borders Ocean Knoll Elementary at the intersection with Melba Road.

One existing home on the property would be renovated and reserved for a low-income household. That, city officials say, qualifies the project under state law to maximize the number of homes that could legally be built on the property.

Opponents, however, contend the so-called “bonus density,” which is intended as an incentive to provide housing to low and very low income earners, is being misapplied.

The opposition also disagrees with the city’s determination that an accessory building on the property does not qualify for the bonus. City officials say the structure wasn’t a legal residence and the occupants are not qualified low-income earners.

Other concerns from neighbors include:

City administrators are not requiring a full blown environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The developer is not doing enough to make Bonita Drive readily accessible to emergency fire vehicles.

The proposed homes are not consistent with the community’s character because they are too large and be built on too small lots.

The project’s stormwater runoff management plan is inadequate and would result in flooding on some abutting properties.

In response to the neighbors’ concerns and some of their own, the commission in October postponed voting on the project and requested a number of changes, to which the developer agreed.

Those included moving several of the homes back from neighboring property lines and incorporating more architectural elements to lessen the visual effects on adjacent homes. The developer also agreed to make some changes on Bonita Drive to make it safer for pedestrians.

The city staff maintains that drainage and possible pesticide contamination on the former agricultural property would be monitored by officials as the plan moves forward.

“You guys really stepped up,” Commissioner Kevin Doyle told the proponents at the Nov. 21 meeting. “There were things I didn’t expect you to do which you stepped up and did. ... You guys have been more responsible than you had to be and I really appreciate it.”

Carilli, however, contends the alterations remain woefully short. Ultimately, if the council approves the project, it will require a determination by the state Coastal Commission that it complies with the city’s commission-approved Local Coastal Program. Carilli says the plan still won’t comply in its current state.

“We really don’t want to sue them,” Carilli said of the developer and city. “It’s such a waste of time. ... I’m an eternal optimist, so I’m hoping we won’t have to do that.”