Divided Encinitas City Council denies Bonita Drive project appeal

(File photo)

A 10-home development proposed near Ocean Knoll Elementary School can proceed as planned, a divided Encinitas City Council decided Wednesday, Feb. 12, as it rejected an appeal filed by neighboring homeowners.

The council’s vote was 3-2, with Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze and Councilman Tony Kranz opposed. While the council split over upholding the Nov. 21 decision by the city’s Planning Commission, there did appear to be consensus on one issue. Council members said that Bonita Drive, which runs by the school and the proposed development site, needs to be overhauled.

The unresolved issue was what to do about this situation.

Salvatory Provenza, the representative for the housing developer, told the council that his development project will do all the roadway improvements that it’s required to do by law. The development will pay for widening, repaving and adding sidewalks along the part of Bonita Drive that’s in front of the 2.37-acre project site.

“We are doing our fair share; in fact, we’re doing more than our fair share,” he said.

Jessica Carilli, who leads the group that’s opposed to the development plans, said the developer ought to be required to improve the full length of the roadway to its intersection with Melba Drive. Not doing so exacerbates what’s already a fire truck access hazard, she and other neighboring homeowners said.

“This is a huge public safety issue,” Bonita Drive resident Kevin McClave said.

City planning department employees told the council that the narrow, aging, potholed Bonita Drive is among hundreds of roads in Encinitas that are privately owned and that’s why the city isn’t maintaining it. Some Bonita Drive residents disputed the city’s position that it doesn’t own the road, and many residents said even if Bonita Drive is privately owned, this roadway is nothing like the city’s other “private roads,” which often are alley ways. Bonita Drive, they noted, is the main access point for an elementary school.

Kranz said the condition of the roadway and the school-related traffic congestion on it were key reasons why he was voting to uphold the neighbors’ appeal. He put forward a motion calling for the city, the home developer, the school district and the neighbors to explore ways to improve a 600-foot section of Bonita Drive that’s not scheduled to be renovated as part of the housing development.

“The issue of the road is bothering me a lot,” he said.

His motion died for lack of a second. Mayor Catherine Blakespear agreed that the road needs improvement, but said that issue wasn’t before the council Wednesday night, Feb. 12. City Attorney Leslie Devaney said Kranz was putting forward something that was “legally problematic” because documents the city has reviewed indicate that Bonita Drive is not a city-owned road. She strongly encouraged the council to drop the road debate Wednesday, Feb. 12, in order to avoid a lawsuit with the housing developers.

While Kranz cited roadway issues as a key reason for voting to uphold the appeal, Shay Hinze said she liked the improvements the developer was proposing to do to the road. She said she had issues with the design of the housing project.

“I’m actually really not happy with the swap that we’re getting,” she said, noting the property currently contains two, low-rent homes.

Plans call for one of these structures to be demolished and the other to renovated and designated as a home for low-income people. Neither of the two existing structures are currently being rented to people who qualify as low-income, and so the developers are only required to provide one low-income home as part of their project, Provenza said.

The inclusion of this low-income home in the plans allows the developer to qualify for some exemptions to city building standards under the state’s Density Bonus Law.

In their appeal of the city Planning Commission decision, project opponents said the development, which is proposed to contain new, market-rate, 5,000-square-foot-plus homes and one renovated, smaller, low-income structure, wasn’t at all what the state Legislature had in mind when it approved the law, which aims to increase the state’s supply of low-income housing.

They also questioned the accuracy of the project’s environmental documents, the timing of the traffic study, the adequacy of the proposed stormwater control measures and the depth of the soil tests, noting that the site once contained greenhouses where pesticides likely were used, yet they’re not being found in the soil tests.

Provenza, the developer representative, stressed that the project was unanimously approved by the city’s Planning Commission and said the project’s consultants had done soil tests in far more spots than the city asked them to do.

The Feb. 12 council vote isn’t expected to end the battle over the controversial project. Opponents have hired an attorney and say they will likely take the city to court, while an attorney for the developers told the council during the public hearing that it had better reject the opponents’ appeal as city staff recommended, or the developers likely would sue.

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