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7 Encinitas stories to watch in 2015

Here’s an overview of stories likely to define Encinitas in 2015, from urban agriculture to the Encinitas Community Park to the housing element.

Density housing fight heading to court

“Density bonus” housing projects are popping up throughout the city. And many neighbors aren’t happy.

California’s density bonus law lets developers build more housing on a parcel than normally allowed if one or more of the units is reserved for low-income individuals. Many residents have stated the law results in overstuffed, community-character killing developments.

Responding to public outcry, the Encinitas City Council last summer sought to shrink the footprint of density bonus projects with a number of amendments to the law. That included rounding down on a calculation to reduce the number of homes in a development.

But a lawsuit from the Building Industry Association followed in October. The lawsuit seeks to force Encinitas to rescind the amendments, arguing they fly in the face of state law and hinder affordable housing developers.

The battle over density bonus is moving from council chambers to the courtroom in 2015.

Urban agriculture all the buzz

In 2014, a council subcommittee planted the seeds for an urban agriculture ordinance. The full council is expected to vote on the ordinance in late 2015, deciding whether it takes root.

If approved, the subcommittee’s recommendations would make it easier for residents to sell produce they’ve grown and reduce the buffers for those raising chickens, bees and goats.

One recommendation calls for allowing small farm stands in residential areas for up to 12 daylight hours a week without a permit.

And city rules currently say beehives must be 600 feet from surrounding homes. Yet for those with two or fewer hives, another recommendation would cut the property line setback to 15 feet.

Supporters of an ordinance have advocated for relaxed rules to keep the city’s history of agriculture alive. To make the case for reform, they point to Coral Tree Farm and Nursery.

City staff shut down the two-acre farm in 2014 over a permit issue. But it reopened a few months later after city staff reversed course. And then, the council reaffirmed the farm can sell produce without special permitting, striking down an appeal from neighbors concerned with traffic.

However, at council meetings, urban agriculture detractors have expressed that more residential farms could spur neighborhood conflicts.

A vision for Pacific View

The historic Pacific View property was slated last March to go to the highest bidder at auction.

However, at the 11th hour, a divided council bought the site from the Encinitas Union School District for $10 million. With escrow recently closing, the city is shifting its focus to the future of the site.

Many residents have suggested Pacific View should be transformed into an arts or community center. In 2015, a council subcommittee will invite proposals for interim uses to bring in revenue while a long-term plan for the site is developed.

The council is also due to get a report on whether the buildings, formerly an elementary school, could be restored or if they have to be torn down to make way for new facilities.

And a public cleanup party to celebrate the city acquiring the property, located at 608 Third Street in downtown, is tentatively scheduled for this January.

Grand Opening for Encinitas Community Park

Perhaps the most asked question in Encinitas this year: “When will the community park open?”

Originally, the ribbon was supposed to be cut summer 2014. Yet, the grass on the fields wasn’t mature enough to withstand heavy use, and repairs remained for contractor USS Cal Builders. So, the Grand Opening was pushed back to Jan. 10.

Within the 44-acre community park, residents can look forward to a skatepark, the Maggie Houlihan Memorial Dog Park (named after the late councilwoman), multi-use fields and a playground.

Following a decade of funding and legal setbacks, the council approved the park summer of 2012. Construction started soon after.

The park is located on Santa Fe Drive, just behind the Vons.

The future of YMCA fields

Encinitas Little League has raised the prospect that it could be uprooted from its longtime home at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA fields.

The YMCA owns the fields, with the city leasing and maintaining them. Due to a contract change that recently came to light, the YMCA could cancel the lease with 30 days’ notice if it needs the fields for its planned expansion.

In December 2013, without public or council discussion, the council approved a 10-year extension of the lease, but with the new 30-day clause.

Months later, the little league and other sports leagues found out about the 30-day clause, raising concerns they could be kicked off without much heads up.

Robert Wade, little league president, told the Encinitas Advocate in November the league is focused on if and when it has to move. He added the league hasn’t been given concrete details about the future of the fields.

Wade also said relocating to the Encinitas Community Park is possible. But unlike the YMCA fields, the community park doesn’t have nighttime lighting. So, moving to the park would likely demand the league scale back the number of games and players, he said.

Residents at council meetings have questioned why the city and YMCA inserted the 30-day clause. And they’ve requested more information about the YMCA’s expansion plans.

The matter is due to appear on a council agenda sometime in 2015.

Education cluster sprouting

The Leichtag Foundation launched a farm and nonprofit hub in 2014. Across the street on Quail Gardens Drive, the Encinitas Union School District’s 10-acre farm is soon to debut.

Similar education initiatives are sprouting across Quail Gardens Drive and nearby Saxony Road. To take advantage of their proximity to each other, the Leichtag Foundation, the school district and four other organizations in the neighborhood formed a group called E3 last spring.

E3’s goal: share resources, partner on programming and rally around like-minded goals. For instance, E3 pledged support and funds in December for traffic-calming infrastructure on Quail Gardens Drive and Saxony Road.

Another example of collaboration thus far: the Leichtag Foundation in September gave a $1 million grant for a planned pavilion at the San Diego Botanic Garden, another cluster member. In return for the grant, E3 members and nonprofits affiliated with Leichtag will rent the pavilion and other spots within the garden at a discounted rate.

The three other E3 members: Seacrest Village Retirement Community, the San Dieguito Heritage Museum and YMCA. Count on more E3 collaboration in 2015.

Housing element heating up

The housing element won’t go to a public vote until November 2016, but 2015 will be a critical year for the ballot measure.

For the state-mandated housing element, the city is looking to rezone select sites for higher density to accommodate 1,300 units. To gain feedback on potential sites, the city debuted an online forum in November that’s since closed.

Input from the forum will be shared with the council and planning commission, tentatively in January. A month or two later, the council will develop site maps for environmental review. Later this year or possibly in 2016, the council will pick one or two of those maps for the ballot.

As the process moves forward, residents will again have the chance to weigh in, both online and at council meetings.

Encinitas has been working on its housing element for years. In 2012, the public attacked a consultant report that proposed clustering housing element units on El Camino Real, resulting in the council rebooting the process.

The city has promoted the housing element as a way to provide diverse housing options for seniors who are downsizing and young professionals who prefer multi-family units near transit and retail centers.

Without a housing element, the city is more susceptible to lawsuits from affordable housing advocates, city officials have said. And an approved housing element would also make the city eligible for more infrastructure grants.

On the flip side, some residents have raised fears about the housing element creating traffic and other negative impacts.

Other stories to keep an eye on in 2015

The council is looking for a city manager to replace Gus Vina, who recently took a job in Northern California. And a law firm that unsuccessfully sued the Encinitas Union School District over its yoga program in 2013 appealed, with the case due to be heard sometime in 2015.

Plus, the council is due to explore ways to protect coastal infrastructure in the face of rising sea levels.


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