Encinitas planners deny permits for 199-unit Clark apartment complex

Encinitas planning commissioners denied permits for the 199-unit Clark Avenue Apartments.
(Karen Billing)

Project near Interstate 5 would have added 199 units


Encinitas planning commissioners ultimately denied permits for a 199-unit housing development just east of Interstate 5 after hearing from more than two dozen opponents and attempting to craft their own traffic congestion solution.

The project’s developers, Western National Properties, were expected to appeal the decision to the City Council.

It wasn’t the proposed development’s design that dismayed them, the planning commissioners said before they voted. It was the impact the project was likely to have on the nearby roadways, which are aging, narrow and potholed — and won’t be renovated as part of the proposed development.

“We’re making a bad situation worse by adding a lot of housing,” Commissioner Susan Sherod said.

Sherod said the apartment buildings’ design seemed “appropriate,” while Chairman Kevin Doyle said he had “no trouble” with the proposed design, adding that he didn’t love it or hate it.

However, Doyle said, “I feel this is going to be a disaster unless we do something along Union (Street).”

Commissioner Steve Dalton agreed, saying, “It seems like a terrible road to have access from.”

The three-story, 15-building Clark Avenue Apartments project is proposed to go on a 6.22-acre site just east of Interstate 5 and just west of Poinsettia Park in a region that’s nicknamed “Avocado Acres” and “Tortilla Flats.”

Ken O’Neil, a representative for Western National Properties, told commissioners that his company selected the site because it was near Interstate 5.

“We looked at a number of sites and this one jumped out at us,” he said, stressing that his company plans to build and then later manage the apartment complex.

Western National has tried to ease neighborhood concerns by agreeing not to use Puebla Street as an access point, O’Neil said. He also stressed the investments the company was making, including extra landscaping along the Interstate 5 side of the property and improvements to roadways immediately adjacent to the site.

However, commissioners and area residents said the area’s main access route — Union Street — isn’t being upgraded and it desperately needs it.

Doyle said the developers will be paying to create a “nice little roundabout to nowhere” at the dead end of a roadway, while the main access route gains no improvements.

“I’m just flabbergasted that we’re going to spend a bunch of your money to fix this roundabout that nobody’s going to use unless they get lost,” he told the developers.

Fellow commissioner Dalton said he shared Doyle’s frustration, but felt the commission’s hands were tied.

The proposed apartment site is among 15 locations listed in a citywide, state-approved housing plan as spots that must accommodate higher-density housing, he noted. If developers follow state requirements, the projects proposed for those site are considered “by right” and the commission can do little to stop them or make the developers do more than meet the basic requirements, he said.

Developer representatives also stressed this, and urged the commission to just get the decision over with that night. That request came after commissioners asked if they would be willing to accept a two-week postponement and use the time to work with neighboring residents to reach an agreement on funding some additional roadway improvements.

Ultimately, the commission voted 4-0, with Commissioner Robert Prendergast absent, to deny the project a boundary line adjustment, plus the design review, minor use and coastal development permits it needs to proceed. In their denial, the commissioners declared that they considered the project a subdivision that ought to be required to do a full-scale Environmental Impact Report. They also said publicity outreach efforts were inadequate because the developers hadn’t reached out to Spanish-speaking residents in the area.