By Claire Harlin
The Solana Beach City Council voted 4-1 on Sept. 28 to deny a building permit for a proposed four-unit, 10,413-square-foot Eden Gardens condo project, a controversial plan that could prompt the council to revisit the city code altogether as it relates to condominiums.
The detached condo project, which would be built at 823 Vera St. and shared between four owners, previously came before the council in October 2009 and was denied, without prejudice, based in part on a building height that exceeded the maximum 25-foot City allowance.
Since then, architects have reduced the size and tweaked the design of the two-story project, which contains a subterranean garage basement. The proposed building height is 25 feet, down from 30 feet, and the square footage was reduced by about 1,300.
“It just doesn’t seem like it’s enough,” said Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner. “There’s only one house larger in the neighborhood still … I find that the bulk and mass is still too large.”
A number of residents attended the Sept. 28 meeting to voice both support and opposition to the project, some saying it would add value to a community that has experienced problems in the past, and others saying it would set a negative development precedent and not complement the character of one of the oldest residential communities in the city.
Some neighbors have expressed concern about safety, gang activity and wildlife at the half-acre lot, which currently contains a boarded-up 784-square-foot house that has been condemned since the 1990s.
Parking was another concern of residents and the council.
“Parking your car in front of your house is one thing, but this is four houses stacked,” said Councilman Mike Nicols. “You can’t park four cars in front of the front house.”
Nichols called the issue a “special circumstance.”
“Technically, I think they meet the minimum requirements because that’s what staff tells them is in the code,” he said. “But maybe we need to look at the code … I don’t feel comfortable about adding to a problem that’s already identified as a problem.”
City Manager David Ott said the project is in compliance with the code, and although staff doesn’t have discretion to deny it, the council does. The council then came to the finding that the code itself may be up for discretion, and Heebner suggested the condominium ordinance return to the table for a separate discussion.
Because about 600 square feet was reduced from the first unit, decreasing the bulkiness of the property as seen from Vera Street, Councilman Joe Killegian said he supports the project. He also pointed out that the proposed development is nearly 5,000 square feet under the floor-area ratio that is mandated by the City.
“If we have qualifications and we have criteria and people meet the criteria, I feel it’s unfair for us to do something different,” said Killegian, the sole vote in favor of the project.
Applicant Robyn Kettering, CEO of Kettering Rose Insurance Agents and Brokers, stressed that the project is being built by Solana Beach residents who intend to live in the community.
“We’re not big city developers coming in and building a project we don’t care anything about and trying to reap big profits and leave,” she said.
Kettering and co-applicant Andres Davis said they plan on finding two other families to occupy the other two units.
She said she hopes to “bring the neighborhood up,” by building the condos.
“It’s, by design, different from the rest of the neighborhood, but in a good way,” Kettering said. “This has been known as one of the less desirable neighborhoods in Solana Beach and we’re hoping to help transition that to a positive.”
In an effort to “be good neighbors,” said Kettering, the applicants hosted a community meeting.
Resident Teresa Correa was the only community member who attended the meeting.
“We keep getting told how this project will improve the community,” said Correa. “The improvement doesn’t always happen because someone can come in with money. When you smell beans being cooked at 5 a.m. when you walk your dog next to Tony’s Jacal, you have community. Tony’s Jacal may not a beautiful building, but it’s rich in itself for the heritage and the family and the community that it has created in Solana Beach. Putting down pavement does not give you community if you don’t live in it and take care of it.”
Councilman David Roberts brought up a resonating point that was suggested to him by a member of the community — “Don’t Huntington Beach Solana Beach.”
He asked co-applicant Davis to explain his philosophy behind building a four-unit condominium complex in a neighborhood that contains mainly single-family houses.
“One house wouldn’t work on it considering the cost of the lot,” Davis said. “There’s the economy; also we have to do what we can with the price of the lot and make it fit.”
Resident Gary Martin said he supports revitalization of the area, but “it’s a lot squeezed on this lot.”
“When you start over the top of maximum height limit, it’s not reasonable to say ‘I’ve made all these reductions,’ when you were out of bounds to start with,” he said. “They’re just now getting back to being reasonable.”