Lagoon-area senior living facility plans win Encinitas approval

Belmont Village, a proposed new senior living community on the San Elijo Lagoon.
Belmont Village, a proposed new senior living community on San Elijo Lagoon.

The latest plans for a 200-unit senior living facility across the street from San Elijo Lagoon are far better than the original ones, city planning commissioners said June 3 as they voted to approve permits for the project.

Commission Chairman Bruce Ehlers called the new version a “much-improved project,” and even two commissioners who expressed hesitancy about approving elements of the project said they liked the new design.

“Honestly, I’m very pleased with the way this came out,” said Commissioner Kevin Doyle, who early in the evening had indicated that he was “on the fence” about approving one project-related item, but ultimately voted in favor.

The item that Doyle was conflicted about — a declaration that the project’s public benefits made up for its “significant and unavoidable impact” to scenic aesthetics — was approved in a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Susan Sherod voting no and Commissioner Amy Flicker absent.

Sherod, who later voted with the commission majority when it came to approving the project’s general permits, said she couldn’t make the finding that the project was so beneficial to the community that it was worth granting it an environmental impact exemption.

“Really, it’s not a bad project, but it’s a bad location for that project,” she said, later adding that it was at least better than putting a large housing development on the site.

Put forward jointly by the Belmont Village senior living company and the housing developer Greystar, the development plans include a two-story, 208,076-square-foot senior living facility and eight, single-family homes, each with its own accessory dwelling unit. The project’s proposed to go on a 14.65-acre agricultural site just east of Interstate 5 along Manchester Avenue.

Seven of the eight homes will be set aside for low-income people, as will all eight of the accessory dwelling units. The 200-unit senior care facility will include 78 independent living units, 67 assisted living units, 27 units for people with mild cognitive impairments and 28 units for people with more significant memory impairments who require a more secure environment.

When they reviewed the previous design late last year, planning commissioners declared that the proposed senior facility looked like a large, ugly “roadside motel” and that it was totally inappropriate for a prime lagoon view property right at the city’s southern entrance.

Last week, Greystar company representative Beau Brand said project planners embarked on a four-month effort to overhaul their plans after hearing the commission’s concerns “loud and clear.” The new design shortens the length of the proposed senior building by a hundred feet, relocates some of the parking spots, creates a park and a toddler play space, adds balconies to the Manchester Avenue side of the senior building, uses a new paint color scheme and reworks the roofline to create more visual interest.

“The building now looks like an eclectic collection of smaller buildings cohesively integrated into the site,” he said.

Commissioners had permit approval on most elements of the project, but a change to a city street lighting requirement will require City Council approval, city planning department employees said.

In other action, commissioners heard public testimony on a controversial proposal to build a 72-unit apartment complex in the city’s Leucadia region, but postponed their deliberation and vote on the item to the commission’s June 17 meeting. Plans call for the proposed development at the corner of Vulcan and La Costa avenues to contain 60 market-rate units and 12 low-income units.

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