Proposed senior housing complex near lagoon needs a redesign
Encinitas commission vote on plans for strawberry fields site delayed to Jan. 21
With a redesign to improve its appearance and make it more eco-friendly, a large senior housing complex proposed for a prime San Elijo Lagoon-area site might win their support, city planning commissioners said last week.
“I came into this meeting not being convinced ... (but) I’m kind of seeing more that this would be a benefit,” Commissioner Brett Farrow said, but stressed that many elements of the design need improvement.
Farrow, an architect, said the proposed site — a vast swath of strawberry fields along Manchester Avenue just east of Interstate 5 — is a spot that someone like him would “drool over” because it’s a highly visible gateway area to the city.
Unfortunately, he and other commissioners said, the developers’ current design looks like a “roadside motel.” Commission Chairman Bruce Ehlers called it “somewhat monolithic,” while Commissioner Susan Sherod said there was a faint chance that large trees might help improve the place’s appearance and Commissioner Kevin Doyle declared that the design was downright “ugly”
“The impression is a gray wall and I dislike gray walls,” he said.
Ultimately, the commissioners agreed to continue the item to their Jan. 21 meeting, the second time they have done so. They initially reviewed the plans last month, and at that session raised concerns about whether the project was right for the site.
The project is a joint development effort between the Belmont Village senior housing company, which already has one senior complex in Encinitas, and Greystar, a housing developer. Plans call for a 200-unit senior care facility and eight single-family homes on the 14.65-acre site along Manchester Avenue.
The two-story, 208,220-square-feet senior care facility is proposed to contain 77 of what are termed “independent living” units, plus 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.
In addition to the senior facility, eight single-family homes are planned. Seven of those homes will be set aside for low-income people, and all eight of the homes will have “accessory dwelling units” designated as low-income housing.
During last week’s meeting, representatives for Belmont and Greystar both emphasized that the housing and senior facility are much-needed in Encinitas. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, senior housing facilities in Encinitas and neighboring communities were running about 94 percent full and they’re still at about 90 percent occupancy, said Andy Gerber, a Belmont Village vice president. Special facilities for people with Alzheimer’s are particularly in short supply, he said.
Beau Brand, a development manager for Greystar, said that combining the senior facility with the housing project made the low-income housing construction economically feasible without requiring public funding.
He said the developers would support the commission’s proposal to continue the item to Jan. 21 and would explore reworking the project’s design, but said the lagoon-area site plus the special building requirements for senior housing create some challenges.
“We’ve done our absolute best ... to put a good foot forward with the city,” he said.
Commissioners said they mostly liked the design for the low-income housing. Their problems were with the senior facility and the vast amount of parking that’s being proposed.
“I’m looking for something that breaks up the massing of that roof line,” Ehlers said, adding that the massive senior complex is going to be highly visible from the northbound lanes of the nearby interstate.
Farrow said he thought the project contained “far too much asphalt,” and suggested greatly reducing the number of parking spots. The project is required to have 120, but the developers are planning to build vastly more than that — 183 spots, he noted.
Doyle said he’d like the developers to replace part of the parking with a playground.
"(That way) we could do something good for the kids, both the ones who live there and the ones who visit,” he said.
All of the commissioners said they would like to see more environmentally-friendly elements incorporated into the design, ranging from solar power and green roofs to more native plants and fewer streetlights.
— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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