Contested piece of land included in draft housing element

A controversial piece of city-owned land will be included in Encinitas' proposal to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) after nearly four hours of debate between residents and city officials at the April 4 City Council meeting.

The council voted three to two, with council members Tony Kranz and Mark Muir dissenting, to keep the “L-7 parcel,” at 634 Quail Gardens Lane, on the list of properties to be included in the city's draft Housing Element Update, which it will send to the HCD on April 13 for a 45-day review period. Also included on the list of 16 properties are the Dramm and Echter farm — which has been proposed as an "agrihood," a neighborhood built around an agricultural property, and was formerly suggested as a cultivation site for marijuana — and the strawberry fields on Manchester Avenue.

The decision came after more than two hours of public comment where residents vehemently shared their reasons for why the L-7 property should or should not be zoned for high-density affordable housing.

Kranz said the land should not be considered "in haste" because the city will have to write another housing element by April 2021.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said the L-7 site, the only piece of city-owned land on the proposed housing element update, will count more than any other property in the way of affordable housing. Because the property is owned by the city, Encinitas has control over how many affordable units will be zoned on the site. Currently, the parcel is projected for a capacity of 190 units.

"We need to walk the walk,” Blakespear said. “Even recognizing this property has limitations, I think all properties would."

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County without a Housing Element, a required document that spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The city’s original plan, which it is still working off of, was created in the 1990s.

The city's last attempt at a housing element, Measure T, failed in the November 2016 election.

The city is also the subject of three lawsuits regarding the lack of its housing element. A hearing for the lawsuits is scheduled for April 30.

Encinitas must zone for 1,600 more homes, a 6.4 percent increase from the city's existing 25,000 homes, Blakespear said. At least 51 percent of high-density housing must be zoned on vacant land, according to a recently passed state law.

The city council plans to take their proposed housing element to the voters this November.

The majority of Quail Gardens residents in attendance on April 4, sporting green ribbons in solidarity, argued the L-7 Parcel wasn't ideal for access to mass transit and wasn't near retail space, which would cause more traffic congestion.

Richard Boger, who is spearheading a neighborhood petition with more than 500 signatures so far against the project, added residents are concerned because of an oversaturation of affordable housing in the Quail Gardens Drive neighborhood.

Sites are also proposed in the area of Encinitas Boulevard and Quail Gardens Drive; at the Sunshine Gardens; on the Baldwin & Sons properties; and on the Dramm and Echter farm, both in the same one-mile area as the 7.6-acre L-7 parcel.

"We have not put out a lot of effort for this petition," Boger said. "It has been a wildfire. ... We all feel wronged. This is too much. You're talking between 33 and 40 percent without L-7, and 40 to 50 percent of all affordable housing will be in this area."

Opponents encouraged the council to instead sell the property and put those funds elsewhere for affordable housing.

Proponents of the site being added pointed to workers at the Leichtag Foundation and Community Resource Center, who live in La Jolla and Oceanside, as examples of people who could benefit from the property being developed.

Charlene Seidle, executive vice president of the Leichtag Foundation across from the L-7 site, said the organization supports the zoning of the property and believes adding affordable housing means furthering the diversity of the city.

"Diversity means we should include the hardworking professionals that serve our community," she said. "Our farmers and other professionals, like nurses and teachers, cannot afford to live in our neighborhood."

The city council will meet again on April 18 to discuss draft development standards. City staff said developers are also planned to be in attendance.

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