Senior living, low-income housing proposed for Encinitas lagoon area

A rendering of a proposed senior living facility near San Elijo Lagoon.
A rendering of a proposed senior living facility
near San Elijo Lagoon.

Planning Commission will take up debate on proposal again at Dec. 3 meeting

A proposal to build a 200-unit senior care facility and eight single-family homes on strawberry fields near San Elijo Lagoon will gain a second airing before the city’s Planning Commission in early December.

Commissioners took an initial stab at reviewing the proposal late Thursday evening, Nov. 19, after an extended debate on proposed changes to the city’s density bonus housing regulations. But they ultimately decided to hold off on voting on it that night. Instead, they continued the item to their Dec. 3 meeting.

They appeared to be divided over the development plans. Two members — commissioners Kevin Doyle and Susan Sherod — said they were impressed with the proposed design; two members — commissioner Brett Farrow and chairman Bruce Ehlers — said they weren’t at all sure this was the best project for the site; and the final commissioner, newcomer Amy Flicker, said she wanted more information about the commission’s role in reviewing such projects.

Encinitas housing project proposed

Known as the Belmont Village, Encinitas-by-the-Sea, project, the development is proposed to go on 14.4 acres along Manchester Avenue just east of Interstate 5. Most of the property is currently zoned rural residential, but there is a slight bit across the street that’s in an ecological reserve area and that part is proposed to remain undeveloped.

Indicative of the entire property’s unique location, it falls within many special city zoning categories, including the scenic view corridor overlay zone, the coastal zone, the 100-year flood zone and the high fire hazard severity zone. Developing the land will require multiple city permits, including a major use permit, as well as state Coastal Commission approval.

The development plans are a joint effort. The multi-family housing company Greystar is handling the housing project, while the Belmont Village company is doing the senior facility. Representatives for both companies spoke at Thursday’s meeting.

Beau Brand, a development manager for Greystar, said the project would provide “immense public benefits,” including a 4-acre, deed-restricted open space area and a public hiking trail along the edge of the property.

Andy Gerber, a Belmont Village vice president, stressed his company’s ties to San Diego County, noting that Belmont already operates two facilities in the region, including Belmont Village, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, which is on Manchester Avenue about a half-mile away from the new project’s site.

“We continue to own every community we’ve built,” he added, stressing that “this is not a spec project where Belmont Village is going to be gone in a few years.”

The two-story, 208,220-square-feet senior care facility is proposed to contain 77 of what are termed “independent living” units, 68 assisted living units, 27 units set aside for people with mild cognitive impairments who do not require a secure environment, and 28 for people who require a more secure environment, city documents indicate.

The housing plans call for eight single-family homes, with seven of them set aside for low-income people. In addition, all eight of the homes will have what are termed accessory dwelling units and those also will be for low-income residents, plans indicate.

City senior planner Katie Innes said the developers are exceeding some city development standards. Among other things, the developers are proposing to include 183 parking spaces for the senior facility, but they are only required to have 120 spaces, she said.

Because they’re including so many accessory dwelling units in the housing portion of the project, the developers also have a surplus of 11 low-income units beyond what’s required, she said.

Commissioners Doyle and Sherod said they particularly liked the inclusion of the low-income housing in the development plan.

“Overall, I’m in favor and it’s a good project from what I’ve seen,” Sherod said, mentioning that she believed the developers had done well in preserving the property’s open space areas.

Commissioner Farrow disagreed, saying that if the site was entirely developed for housing, rather than being a mixed project with both housing and a senior living area, it would contain far fewer total units — more like 53 rather than 208.

“I have serious concerns about this project,” he stressed.

Both Farrow and commission chairman Ehlers questioned whether there really was a need for any more senior living facilities in Encinitas, noting that the city already has a lot of them.

Ehlers said he wasn’t keen on building a senior facility next to a freeway onramp area, saying putting elderly drivers in such a situation amounts to a “recipe for disaster.”

Various developments have been proposed for the strawberry fields site over the years. At one point, the owners suggested putting an agriculture-themed hotel on the land. Costco also once considered buying the property.

City documents state that the land was used for agriculture from about 1947 through 1953, then was left fallow from the mid-1960s through much of the 1980s. Agricultural production again began on the site in the late 1980s and has continued to the present day.

The state Department of Transportation recently acquired one corner of the property for a direct-access freeway ramp and a park & ride area.

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