Encinitas residents lose housing project appeal

A nearly five-year battle over plans for a Leucadia housing project came to a close Dec. 20 when the Encinitas City Council rejected neighboring residents' latest appeal of a city Planning Commission decision.

Asked after the council's vote if this was the end of their campaign, Fulvia Street resident Susan Turney responded, "It's going to have to be," noting that she'd just heard a grading permit had been issued for the project.

At issue is a proposal by developer CityMark Communities to build eight, market-rate homes and one home for a very-low-income family on a 2.25-acre site at the intersection of Fulvia Street and Hymettus Avenue. Neighboring residents have argued for years that the housing project is too dense and will exacerbate their severe street flooding issues.

Representatives for the developers don't dispute that the area has flooding problems, but contend that their project, known as Hymettus Estates, will improve this situation rather than adding to the area's water woes.

"We feel we've done everything that's been asked of us and we know ... we're going to be good neighbors," Vice President Russ Haley said during the Dec. 20 meeting.

Several council members said they also believed the project's proposed storm water retention basin would likely improve the area's flooding situation, but said project opponents were right in arguing that the project's proposed "CC&Rs" -- the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions paperwork that future residents receive -- needed some tweaking.

After deliberating about whether to send the issue back to the Planning Commission, council members ultimately unanimously decided to uphold the commission's Oct. 19 approval of the project's final map. They directed the developers to rework the CC&Rs paperwork to highlight the area's flooding problems and spell out the regular maintenance requirements for the proposed storm water basin.

Councilman Tony Kranz said the area has had flooding issues for decades and recalled deliberately seeking out the huge puddles on his bike when he was a child.

"The reality is the intersection is a disaster area the city needs to address," he said.

While debate centered Dec. 20 on area flooding concerns and issues with how the city has handled public notices for the project meetings, the fight over Hymettus Estates has been associated in the past with the broader issue of citywide housing density and the effects of a hugely unpopular state housing law known as the Density Bonus Law.

The law, which has been the subject of multiple lawsuits in Encinitas, allows developers to build more homes than might normally be allowed on a given lot if they set aside at least one of those homes for low-income people.

The Hymettus Estates projects was featured in two lawsuits. Its approval was mentioned as a priority item in an agreement that the city reached with the Building Industry Association of San Diego County to settle the BIA's density bonus-related lawsuit.

After the city settled that lawsuit in 2015, it was then sued by people who live near the future Hymettus Estates. They argued that the courts should declare the BIA settlement agreement illegal, saying it was forcing Encinitas to approve a housing project with serious environmental issues. Their request was denied this fall.

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

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