Planning commission votes down Goodson apartment complex

The site for the proposed Encinitas Boulevard Apartments.

The Encinitas Planning Commission denied the Encinitas Boulevard Apartments project in a 4-0 vote on Thursday, Aug. 19, with Chair Bruce Ehlers recused. The decision is appealable to city council.

The 283-apartment complex on Encinitas Boulevard is proposed for a 6.95-acre parcel on the corner of Rancho Santa Fe Road and Encinitas Boulevard. Developer Randy Goodson was seeking approval of a density bonus, design review permit and boundary adjustment for the project that would include two buildings stepped up the slope with a mix of one to three bedroom units, wrapped around a 472-stall parking structure with resident-serving amenities such as a rooftop pool and 2.1 acres of open space.

To accommodate the requested 35% density bonus, the applicant was asking to increase the height to 61 feet, increase the stories from three to six stories and to provide 119 rather than the 277 storage units required.

In the past, the city has granted waivers for density bonus projects but none have requested an increase in stories or a height above 30 feet. Because the waivers requested were so much greater, the city retained RRM Design Group to determine if the project could be accommodated with fewer or no waivers. RRM’s analysis showed that it would be possible to accommodate the developer’s program without the height and storage waivers and only a one-story waiver.

Vice Chair Kevin Doyle said building to six stories didn’t make common sense and that the waivers were not required to this extent.

“The RRM report seems to provide substantial evidence that the city’s development standards do not preclude the proposed density and therefore the project is not eligible for waivers,” Doyle said. “Without the waivers, the project does not comply with the Encinitas Municipal Code which quite clearly limits the allowable building height and number of stories.

“Without these waivers, the findings cannot be made to support approval of the design review permit.”

At its July 15 hearing, the commission closed public testimony and continued the discussion and decision on the project to Aug. 19 when they would have a new commissioner on board. Leucadia resident and attorney Christina Ryan was appointed as the new commissioner on Aug. 11—she was able to watch the testimony portion of the previous hearing and review all of the project materials.

Commissioner Susan Sherod said she heavily weighed public comment in her findings. The public had offered arguments in opposition that she agreed with, including the project’s impact on community character, increased traffic, safety risk in the event of a wildfire evacuation, lack of available transit in the area and violation of the city’s Dark Sky policy.

“I have way too many problems with it,” Sherod said. “The most crucial is that the waiver isn’t necessary.”

Commissioner Steve Dalton was not convinced that the RRM study demonstrated that an equivalent project could be done without the waivers.

“This is a very big building and it’s not ideal for this location,” Dalton said. “Unfortunately, the city has identified this as a R-30 site…we stated to the state that we intend to put multi-family housing on this site.”

Per the city’s municipal code, the purpose of the R-30 Overlay Zone is to diversify the housing options available in the community and expand opportunities for creating affordable housing.

Encinitas Boulevard Apartments proposed that 41 of 205 units (20% before the density bonus) would be affordable to lower-income households. With the breakdown of 241 market rate and 42 low-income units, Commissioner Ryan did not see how a family of four or five would be able to fit into a junior one bedroom or one bedroom.

“I think that’s a problem,” agreed Dalton of the affordable units being set aside as junior one bedrooms and one bedrooms, not a mix of one to three bedroom units like the rest of the project.

With city staff support, Doyle said the breakdown of affordable units seems to be in violation of the Federal Housing Act and California Fair Employment and Housing Act by having disparate impacts on families with children.