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Encinitas council overturns Planning Commission’s denial of apartment project

A rendering of the 199-unit Clark Avenue Apartments.
(Karen Billing)

Plans call for 199-unit complex to go just east of Interstate 5

The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, Sept. 14, overturned a city Planning Commission decision and gave the green light to a controversial, 199-unit apartment development that’s proposed to go just east of Interstate 5.

Before the vote, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it was “extremely difficult to hear the true anguish” in the opponents’ voices when they urged the council to “vote your heart” and say no to the development proposal, but the responsible, legal decision was to allow the development to go forward given state housing regulations.

“I don’t feel that we are able to make a decision that says no to this project,” she said.

Councilmember Tony Kranz said the proposed development site was one of the most contentious of the 15 locations that city officials selected years ago when Encinitas was required by the state to identify sites where the city would eventually accommodate higher-density housing. Neighbors’ concerns about nearby roadway conditions are valid and the city needs to make improvements, but it still must grant permits to this project because this site is on that state-mandated list, he said.

“I think this is one of those projects (where) we need to do what’s in the best interests of the city as whole,” he added, mentioning that Encinitas lacks multi-family housing and this complex would be within walking distance of one the city’s major employers — Scripps Hospital.

Proposed by Western National Properties, the development plans call for 15 three-story buildings to go on the 6.22-acre site, which is bordered by Union and Puebla streets and just west of Poinsettia Park.

When the city’s planning commissioners voted 4-0 in early August to deny the project the permits it needed to proceed, they stressed that they didn’t have issues with the design of the buildings. It was the impact the large development would have on nearby, narrow, aging roadways that concerned them, they said, noting that those roads won’t be renovated as part of the proposed development. In their denial, they declared that the project developers ought to be required to do a full-scale Environmental Impact Report and they said the developers should have done more outreach efforts to the neighborhood’s Spanish-speaking residents.

Both the project’s developers and an opponents’ group appealed the Planning Commission’s decision, but for different reasons. The developers, Western National Properties, wanted the council to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision, while the opponents’ group, Clark Development Action Group, sought to re-enforce the commission’s action, saying there were even more reasons to support the denial.

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney representing the developers, repeatedly stressed to the City Council Wednesday, Sept. 14, that the project was a “by-right” development because it was previously identified in the city’s state-approved, Housing Element plan as a location where high-density housing would be allowed. Gonzalez said that under state law, city officials couldn’t now use “subjective judgment” to deny the development permits and called the opponents’ appeal an “awkward” document.

“There’s really nothing for them to hang their hats on,” he said.

Craig Sherman, who represented the opponents’ group, said the opponents filed their appeal to give “more full and robust” documentation of why the commission should have denied the project its permits.

“The health and safety risks are pretty obvious,” he said.

Nearly 20 residents spoke to the council and all of them urged them to reject the developers’ permit requests. Opponents included former city planning commissioner Gene Chapo, who told the council that Union Street will be enormously impacted by the additional traffic from the proposed development.

“Of all the 15 sites you selected (for higher density housing in Encinitas), this has to be the worst,” he said.


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