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Encinitas Planning Commission delays vote on 485-unit apartment project, the biggest in city’s history

A rendering of Quail Meadows.
(Karen Billing)

Questions remain about traffic congestion, wetlands impacts

After raising numerous questions about traffic congestion, wetlands impacts and the developer’s proposal to put all the low-income housing units into one of four planned apartment buildings, the Encinitas Planning Commission postponed its vote Thursday, Oct. 20, on the Quail Meadows project.

The commissioners continued debate on the item to their next meeting, which is at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3.

The proposed development, which commissioners said was the biggest the city had seen, would place 485 apartments on a 12-acre site on Quail Gardens Drive, just north of its intersection with Encinitas Boulevard. For comparison, Encinitas Apartments — a recently approved project that has been intensely opposed by its neighbors in Olivenhain who contend it is vastly out-of-scale for their community — is proposed to contain 250 units.

During Thursday’s four-hour meeting, commissioners raised many issues with the proposed development and repeatedly said they were particularly troubled by the developer’s plans to segregate all of the project’s 72 low-income housing units into one building, leaving the other three structures with all of the market-rate units.

“I won’t lie to you man,” Chair Kevin Doyle told the developers, “I was horrified to find out you’re going to cram every one of those 72 units in one building.”

Both Doyle, who grew up in New Jersey, and Commissioner Chris Ryan, who has lived in Chicago, said they had experience with housing “projects” — places where low-income people are all stuffed together into multi-story buildings separate from other people — and it’s a bad idea. Also, Doyle said, it isn’t in keeping with Encinitas’ community character.

“Encinitas is a conglomeration of multi-million-dollar (luxury homes) next to tiny little homes occupied by working-class people … that’s what Encinitas is,” he said.

Nick Lee, chief operating officer for developer Baldwin & Sons, told the commissioners that their plans call for putting all the low-income units into one building because that allows them to obtain special tax credit financing for the development. He said this design will create more two- and three-bedroom apartment units for low-income families.

A rendering of Quail Meadows.
(Karen Billing)

And, he added, everybody in this development will have access to the pool, the two-story community center and other amenities.

“Whether you live in building two, three or four, your experience will be the same,” Lee said.

Doyle said that as it is designed now, the western side of Building 4 — the building at the back of the site where all of the low-income units are proposed to go — has a different appearance than the other units, so it’s going to be noticeable as the low-income structure.

“It just stood out before I even knew what was going on,” he said.

While commissioners raised many concerns with the project, they said they didn’t think they legally could reject the developer’s city permit requests based on the low-income housing building plan, but added that they believed state officials will have issues with it.

“This will cost you… I think Coastal Commission is going to come down on you,” Doyle said.

Among other permits, the project needs a state coastal development permit because it’s within the state’s coastal review zone.

The city’s options for denying permits to the project are limited because, like other recent controversial high-density housing projects in Encinitas, Quail Meadows is considered a “by-right” development — it’s going on a site that was previously identified in the city’s state-approved, Housing Element plan as a location where high-density housing is allowed as long as it meets certain standards.


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