Encinitas council delays decision on appeal of Piraeus Point housing project

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Land ownership issue, other items will be discussed at Aug. 23 meeting


After extensive debate, the Encinitas City Council delayed its decision Wednesday on permit approval for the controversial Piraeus Point housing project.

Right at the start of the public hearing, Mayor Tony Kranz warned that one issue — a landownership question — would, in his view, require more information, meaning the item would need to be continued to a meeting two months from now because the council will be on summer recess in July.

“That’s an unresolved issue that we’re going to have to address,” Kranz said of the question about whether the city owns a strip of land that’s on the edges of the proposed development site.

Councilmember Bruce Ehlers said he had other items that required more information, including a question about whether the project’s roof deck could be considered a fourth floor and whether the “overriding considerations” findings could be made, thus exempting the project from certain environmental regulations.

“As it stands today, I cannot make that (finding) in this case,” he said.

Put forward by Lennar Homes of California, the 149-townhome project is proposed to go on an undeveloped hillside at the corner of Piraeus Street and Plato Place. Plans call for 15 buildings, each three stories tall with an added rooftop patio area. In order to accommodate the development, large portions of the hillside need to be removed and walls will be installed to hold back the remainder.

Some 250 neighboring households have created an opponents’ group — Encinitas Community Collective. The group has appealed the city Planning Commission’s May 18 decision to approve permits for the project. A decision on that appeal was before the City Council Wednesday, and the council ultimately decided to continue the debate to its Aug. 23 meeting.

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney for the developer, said his clients weren’t pleased to have the item delayed, but understood the council’s decision given the landownership issue, which essentially surfaced this week.

“We have a lot of issues (about delaying the item), but we know it needs to be done,” he told the mayor when asked for his thoughts.

When the development proposal came before the Planning Commission for permit approval last month, the city was thought to have easement rights over a roughly 1-acre strip of land adjacent to Piraeus Street and Plato Place where the developer wants to put a storm water retention basin and landscaping. The developers wanted the city to give up its easement right in order to allow their project to proceed.

It now looks like the city and developer may need to reach a land purchase agreement, city planning employees said. Opponents of the proposed housing development encouraged the council on Wednesday to obtain as much as possible out of the land purchase deal, saying the money could fund a pathway along Plato Place to make it safer for children to walk to school or it could pay for undergrounding utility lines that are just east of the proposed project’s buildings and retaining walls.

In its appeal of the Planning Commission’s permit decisions, the opponents have argued that the project’s retaining walls will be structurally unsound in an earthquake; the developer’s request to opt out of undergrounding the utility lines will create a fire hazard as well as being unsightly; and the rooftop decks will create light and noise issues for neighbors. The group also cites air quality, vehicle traffic and pedestrian safety on its lengthy list of concerns about the development plans.

Developer representatives counter that opponents knew the site — called the Cannon Property — was on the city’s list of places where high-density housing would be allowed and are now trying to fight that listing. They contend that no high-density project would appeal to the neighbors.