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Encinitas City Council denies opponents’ appeal of Piraeus Point project permits

Staff photo
Downtown Encinitas
(Karen Billing)

State law makes it difficult to block housing development from proceeding, council majority says. Lennar Homes of California is proposing to build a 149-townhome project on an undeveloped hillside.

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An appeal of a city Planning Commission decision to issue permits for the controversial Piraeus Point housing project must be denied given state law, a majority of the Encinitas City Council decided late Wednesday night, Aug. 23.

The council voted 3-1, with Councilman Bruce Ehlers opposed and Councilwoman Kellie Hinze absent, to reject the appeal filed by the Encinitas Community Collective, a group of some 250 people who oppose the development plans.

“I acknowledge your reasons for being here to oppose this project are real,” Mayor Tony Kranz said as he expressed sympathy for the neighbors. “I feel it, I understand it, but in the end, we’re up against state housing law.”

Ehlers, a former city planning commissioner, said he was voting in opposition because he did not believe he could make the required findings that the housing project would provide significant benefits and thus ought be granted waivers from various city development standards. It isn’t creating a “walkable” community, and it’s providing the “absolute minimum” of required low-income units and environmental benefits, he said.

Lennar Homes of California is proposing to build a 149-townhome project 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 must be removed and walls installed to hold back the remainder.

The Encinitas Community Collective appealed the Planning Commission’s May 18 decision to approve permits for the project. Group members have argued that the project’s proposed retaining walls will be structurally unsound in an earthquake; the developer’s request to opt out of moving the utility lines underground 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 has cited air quality, vehicle traffic and pedestrian safety on its lengthy list of concerns about the development plans.

The group’s attorney, Arie Spangler, said at the Aug. 23 meeting that “at the very least” the item should be sent back to the Planning Commission for additional assessment.

“There are still major issues with this project,” she said.

Lennar representatives countered that the neighbors have long known that the site was on the city’s list of places where high-density housing would be allowed and now are trying to prevent any high-density project from being built there.

Dave Shepherd, with Lennar Homes, said his company was putting fewer housing units on the site than state law allowed and the neighbors should recognize this.

“We could have come forward with an application that would be twice the density,” he said.

The City Council initially considered the opponents’ appeal at a meeting in June, but ultimately continued the item to the Aug. 23 meeting.

In their vote to deny the appeal, the council majority members declared that the project did provide some environmental and economic benefits because the developers are agreeing to preserve some open space habitat and are providing some units for very low income people. Council members also added a list of conditions to the project, including ones related to roadway improvements and a study of the site’s soil conditions.

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