Lower building heights, fewer units possible, consultant says

Lower building heights and fewer units than what were proposed in Measure T could be possible in Encinitas' next housing element update, a consultant told the city's Housing Element Task Force in a meeting Aug. 10 at city hall.

Dave Barquist, project manager for the Orange County-based Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc., whom the task force hired as its consultant earlier this year, analyzed potential scenarios at the meeting to see what could fit in a cap of 30 feet or two stories, suggesting overlays could mean the number of parcels goes down from 195 — the number proposed in the failed Measure T — to as little as around 70.

This would eliminate any site that would yield fewer than 16 units, including smaller sites downtown and in Leucadia that were included in Measure T. Although the sites are the same ones proposed in Measure T, which have already been through environmental review, Barquist noted this plan would reduce the total number of sites.

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.

State law currently mandates Encinitas should zone for 1,093 high-density units, according to city officials.

The city’s last effort for a Housing Element — Measure T — failed in the November election. The plan called for allowing additional housing on a series of sites along busy roadways in all five communities of Encinitas. In order to meet state targets for new housing growth, the plan proposed easing city height restrictions and allowing 25 to 30 dwelling units per acre on those sites.

Barquist told the task force — consisting of Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, planning commissioner and No on T spokesman Bruce Ehlers, and former planning commissioner Kurt Groseclose — that in the new plan, commercial spaces could also be modified into mixed use, which could reduce traffic because residential development yields fewer car trips per day than commercial development.

The units ideally would vary between studios to three-bedroom units, which would help accommodate all income levels and family sizes.

While the sites are the same ones proposed with Measure T, there are fewer of them and include the addition of a site on the southeast corner of Manchester Avenue and El Camino Real, Barquist noted.

Damien Mavis, whose family has owned that property for 30 years, said he’d like to develop his property to help the city reach its state-allocated numbers, including those for affordable housing. However, a lawyer representing the nearby San Elijo Lagoon warned the task force at the meeting that the city could face potential litigation should it decide to re-zone that site at a higher density.

"There are real issues in terms of the [environmental] impacts," said Kevin Johnson, adding sea-level rise could impact the area, leaving fewer areas for wetlands.

He said the conservancy supported Measure T, in part because it was considered the "environmentally friendly” option.

"We're not against affordable housing," Johnson said. "If there's going to be an upzone on those two properties, you can expect there will be vigorous opposition on every level after that."

Blakespear said in an interview following the meeting that the city would have to get approval from the coastal commission, which works closely with the lagoon.

"If they're unwilling to accept that site, my prediction is we won't do anything with it," she said.

That site is being considered because the property owner volunteered to put a larger amount of deed-restricted affordable housing on it, which would help the city fulfill both “the spirit and the letter” of the law, Blakespear said.

The task force will meet again on Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. at city hall to refine the proposed ideas after the consultant, the city’s attorney and the city’s planning staff answer questions posed by the task force.

Blakespear said it's likely the next housing element will be on the November 2018 ballot.

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