Encinitas upholds approval of farm-focused housing project
Fox Point Farms opponents’ lawyer, city, developer work out a set of 'extra-ordinary benefits’ in effort to avoid litigation
An innovative, farm-focused housing project meets, or even exceeds, the required environmental standards and ought to be allowed to proceed, the Encinitas City Council decided Wednesday, Jan. 27, as it rejected an appeal filed by an opponents’ group.
“I do not see that there are any problems with the environmental review,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said, mentioning that the project could have had far more of an environmental impact because it’s proposed to contain half the number of homes that actually could be permitted on the site.
Named Fox Point Farms, the new development is proposed to have 250 homes, of which 40 will be set aside for very low income families. The project also includes a 5.5-acre farmland area, a farm stand, a farm-to-table restaurant and a community recreation center. The development, part of a national movement to establish farm-focused housing communities, is proposed to go on a 21.5-acre site at the intersection of Quail Gardens Drive and Leucadia Boulevard. The city’s Planning Commission approved the project’s environmental documents Dec. 17.
In his appeal of the commission’s decision, Paul Kibel, the attorney for the opponents’ group Encinitas Community Trust, had argued that the project would have several significant adverse environmental impacts that were not identified in the environmental documents and not mitigated. Those included, Kibel said, traffic issues, noise, greenhouse gas emissions and farmland loss.
He said Wednesday, Jan. 27, that he agreed with project proponents that the proposed Fox Point Farms project does have many positive aspects, but “this appeal is not about whether this is a good project or a bad project.” What’s at issue, he said, was whether its environmental impact documents meet state standards.
City planning department staff and developers’ representatives said they disagreed with Kibel’s characterization that the documents were inadequate, saying they felt the paperwork did address all the necessary issues and went beyond what was required.
Brian Grover, a managing partner with developer Nolan Communities, also stressed that he had worked with some 70 neighbors over a period of many months to collect their concerns and tweak the development plans accordingly. Most neighbors now support the development plans, but there are two who do not and they’re the ones appealing the project’s approval and threatening to sue, he said.
“To be completely honest, we’re a bit discouraged at this point,” he added.
Kibel said Grover’s statement that the Encinitas Community Trust group primarily consisted of two project opponents was wrong.
“There are many more members than two,” he said, mentioning that group included both neighbors and people who live outside the immediate area.
He did not provide membership numbers.
Councilman Tony Kranz said Grover’s characterization about people’s views of the project was accurate. He mentioned that he was one of the initial opponents who now supports it, and said he has heard from many people who feel the same way.
In an effort to head off any litigation over the development plans, the council engaged Wednesday, Jan. 27, in some last-minute negotiations with Kibel and Grover before upholding the city Planning Commission’s mid-December approval of the development plans.
They ultimately reached agreement on what Grover referred to as a set of “extra-ordinary benefits” — a series of new, extra items the developers will pay for to ease Encinitas Community Trust’s concerns about the project. Those items include:
- Purchasing a 12-passenger van and operating shuttle service to Capri Elementary and Diegueno Middle schools for at least five years;
- Paying $50,000 into a California-based program to offset any carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions created by the project;
- Contributing $50,000 to establish a micro-shuttle program within the Encinitas region.
“Frankly, we want to move on; we don’t want to go to court,” Grover said.
— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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