Encinitas planners deny permit for Vulcan Avenue apartment proposal

The proposed apartment building on Vulcan Avenue.

Decision on controversial Leucadia-area project likely to be appealed to City Council


The design of a proposed 72-unit apartment complex on Vulcan Avenue is downright ugly, a majority of the city’s planning commissioners said Thursday night, June 17, as they voted to reject a project permit request.

Their 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Steve Dalton opposed, is the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle over the apartment project, and the commission’s design review permit decision is expected to be appealed to the City Council.

The development, which contains 60 market-rate units and 12 low-income units, is proposed to go near a heavily congested section of La Costa Avenue. Opponents have argued that it will make what’s already a horrendous traffic situation worse. Planning commissioners said Thursday, June 17, that they couldn’t force the project’s developers to fix a pre-existing traffic problem, especially since traffic studies indicate that this project isn’t expected to add significantly to the current traffic volume on La Costa Avenue. However, when it came to the building’s proposed appearance, they said they did have the ability to demand changes under the city’s design standard rules.

“This is horrible,” Commissioner Kevin Doyle said as he listed his issues with the proposed design, including that the main building was “too darn boxy,” the roof looked like a “flat sheet” and a proposed roof deck was in the “stupidest place” overlooking a neighboring home.

Commission Chairman Bruce Ehlers said the main building’s backside looked “monolithic” and said neighbors who have compared the project to a generic Holiday Inn hotel were right, while Commissioner Susan Sherod said there was nothing about the project that celebrated the surrounding Leucadia coastal region’s funky vibe.

“This could be anywhere. This could be Nebraska. It doesn’t say Leucadia,” Sherod said, mentioning that she wished the project would incorporate a mural or colorful tiles with a sea scene rather than sticking palm trees in front of a generic building.

Even the one commissioner who voted in favor of issuing the project permits, Dalton, said he struggled to support the proposed design.

“I don’t think the building particularly reflects Leucadia,” he said, adding that the only way someone could make that argument was to declare that the freedom to build anything you liked was the true characteristic of Leucadia.

Toward the end of the evening, commissioners asked the developer’s representative Austin Wermers whether his company had any comments or wanted extra time to rework their proposed design, instead of having the commission vote to reject the design review permit request that night.

Wermers, who had asked the commission to get the vote over with when the project first came before them on June 3, noted that his company believes the proposed development is a “by right” project, meaning the city has little ability to reject it. Plans for high-density housing on the site are included in a state-approved, citywide housing planning document and the project is expected to provide some much-needed, low-income housing.

“The up/down vote is what I’m looking for tonight,” he said.

The commission’s chairman said that regardless of the commission’s decision, the project was likely to be appealed to the council because both sides in the dispute have previously indicated that they were likely to file an appeal.

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