Developer asked to reduce Encinitas subdivision’s impact


The developer of a nine-home subdivision should explore ways to make the project less intrusive, the Encinitas Planning Commission decided Jan. 21 by way of a 4-1 vote.

Commissioners expressed concern that two-story homes in the proposed development at 720 Balour Drive could loom over the existing neighborhood, which is largely made up of one-story houses. So, they asked the developer to share an access road with a church to allow a greater buffer between the subdivision and adjacent houses — or reduce the size of the planned homes’ second story.

“Looking at how you make this compatible — that is the main issue I think we need to address,” Commissioner Tasha Boerner Horvath said.

Plans for the nine-home subdivision call for eight two-story homes and one single-story house on a former greenhouse site. Those opposed to the project said that four of the two-story homes next to the neighborhood should be downsized to one story in the name of privacy and community character.

Michael Vairin of Melia Homes, the project developer, was against that idea, but said he would explore the commission’s recommendations.

Commissioners said reducing the footprint of the homes’ second story would make the project less imposing.

Another commission suggestion was that rather than building a new access road for the development, the project could share an access street with Saint John’s Catholic Church and School. This design would provide more space between new homes and the neighborhood.

“I don’t know what the church’s response is going to be,” Vairin said, noting potential challenges with the commission’s suggestions.

Earlier in the meeting, Vairin said Melia Homes has already responded to community input by revising the project over time to decrease the size of the homes.

The proposed subdivision is slated to come back before the commission at 6 p.m. on Feb. 18.

Eight residents spoke out against the project, and 14 people who did not wish to talk in front of the commission registered opposition.

“Mass and scaling issues, lack of view corridors and lack of privacy are very real,” said Cory Dunn, who was among those from the surrounding Oak Knoll neighborhood at the meeting who wore bright nametags in solidarity.

The proposed subdivision is among the city’s “density bonus” projects, which Encinitas neighborhoods have argued threaten community character.

California density bonus law lets developers construct more housing on a parcel than city zoning allows, as long as at least one unit is reserved as low-income. It also allows waivers that relax building standards, which in this case includes reduced lot sizes.

Under the law, the developer could build as many as 11 units on the property, though opted for nine (eight market rate homes and one affordable unit), according to the city staff report.

The Encinitas City Council in 2014 passed rules that sought to shrink density bonus projects, but last fall had to rescind most of those changes as part of a lawsuit settlement between the city and Building Industry Association of San Diego.

Commissioner Anthony Brandenburg cast the lone vote against the motion, but did not explain his reasoning.