Redesigned senior living complex wins Planning Commission approval

A senior living complex that once was to be as large as a Walmart big box store won the approval Thursday, Dec. 7, of the Encinitas Planning Commission after it underwent a months-long redesign that cut the number of units by 23 percent.

It will still have a "a bit of an impact" on El Camino Real traffic conditions and nearby homes, but not nearly as much as the earlier version, Commission Chairman Glenn O'Grady said. And, he added, this site may be one of the last remaining options in town for any large senior housing complex.

"If not there, then where? We're getting built out," he said.

The commission's vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Greg Drakos absent.

Members of the neighboring residents' group that formed to oppose the original plans said after the vote that they will definitely appeal the commission's decision to the City Council, saying a large senior living complex is too intensive a development for the site near San Elijo Lagoon.

Westmont Living's new proposal for the property -- a mostly vacant parcel just north of the Temple Solel synagogue and El Camino's intersection with Manchester Road -- calls for an 85,879-square-foot building with 93 housing suites for seniors. It replaces plans for a 110,073-square-foot structure with 122 suites.

The Planning Commission rejected Westmont's initial proposal in May 2016, saying it was too massive for the site. In the months since, the developers have held community meetings and reworked the plans.

"We listened carefully to the community," project manager Bob Trettin told the commissioners, declaring that they now have a "revised and improved project."

Among other things, he and project architect Aaron Clark said, they have:

Eliminated a 21-bed area for Alzheimer's patients and other senior citizens with severe memory loss;Dropped plans for a basement area that gave the building a three-story look; Decided to tuck the building into the hillside, making it look more like a one-story structure than a two-story one; Changed the proposed building colors from blues to golden harvest tones to make the structure look less industrial: And agreed to replace some of the historic Torrey pines that will be removed for a road-widening project.Trettin said there was one thing the developers were not willing to do. They would not agree to exchange the one proposed big building for several smaller senior housing structures.

"To have those residents going between buildings is not safe," he said.

Neighboring homeowners said the developers hadn't really listened to their concerns about the project and called the Dec. 7 presentation a flashy snow job, contending that the architectural renderings and view corridor pictures didn't reflect reality.

"What we saw here tonight was a sales job -- It was a timeshare sales job," said Richard Markell, an equine veterinarian who lives on El Camino Court.

He said the new project may not be the size of a Walmart or a Home Depot, but it's still the size of a Best Buy store and that's too large.

His neighbor, Marilyn Dulich, agreed.

"It's the wrong use of the property," she said, noting that if the developers put houses on the site they would only be allowed about nine of them given the property's zoning. "It's intense. It's just an intense use."

The planning commissioners, most of whom were not on the commission when the earlier proposal was rejected, approved the new plans with several conditions. Those conditions included a requirement that Torrey pines eliminated by the construction plans be replaced on a one-to-one basis if possible; that the project's retaining walls be "generously" covered with vines; and that food and other deliveries to the future senior complex only occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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