Council votes to remove contested site from housing plan

A discussion originally scheduled for development standards turned into another debate about a controversial property when the Encinitas City Council voted April 18 in favor of removing the site from a housing proposal already sent to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca — who motioned to remove the “L-7 property” near the conclusion of the April 18 meeting after the council voted April 4 to include the land in the city's draft housing element, which was sent to HCD on April 13 — said he met with a number of residents who were concerned the parcel wasn't ideal for access to mass transit and wasn't near retail space, which would cause more traffic congestion.

More than 500 residents living in the Quail Gardens Drive neighborhood have contested the property, at 634 Quail Gardens Lane, wasn't appropriate for high-density housing and signed a petition urging the council to reconsider including the site on the list.

Richard Boger, who is spearheading the neighborhood petition, said 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're not trying to defeat the affordable housing," Boger said. "We're just trying to have fairness. ... It's just way too much."

Mosca suggested the land should be moved to R-3 zoning and the city could put those funds from a potential sale elsewhere for affordable housing. Council members Mark Muir and Tony Kranz agreed.

"Removing the property keeps the faith with the community character," Kranz said. "The idea that this property that we own has to be in the mix is just crazy."

But Mayor Catherine Blakspear and Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath argued L-7 was the only piece of city-owned, residential land available and therefore the city's "only real shot" at getting deed-restricted affordable units.

Blakespear added she was concerned the vote would add credibility to existing litigation against the city. Encinitas is the subject of three lawsuits regarding the lack of its housing element. A hearing for the lawsuits is scheduled for April 30.

Because the housing document had already been submitted to HCD, Boerner Horvath said she was concerned Encinitas would look like "fools" and the removal might negatively affect the city's 45-day window for review and comments from HCD. Currently, the city is scheduled to hear back from HCD by May 28, after the state agency approved a 45-day period rather than the typical 60-day.

"We are jeopardizing our entire process with that choice," Boerner Horvath said.

Barbara Kautz, the city's special counsel on the housing element, says the city could still meet its June deadline for the November ballot but risks getting HCD certified.

"Encinitas doesn't have time for mistakes," she said. "We have to get it done right the first time."

She said she did not immediately know whether HCD would allow the city to remove the site during its current 45-day period or if the period would have to start over again after the removal.

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. 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.

Encinitas must zone for 1,600 more homes, a 6.4 percent increase from the city's existing 25,000 homes. 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 its proposed housing element to the voters this November.

City staffers will host a May 10 community workshop at Encinitas Community Center, where residents can share their opinions about building heights, setbacks and lot coverage. No decisions were made by the city council at the April 18 meeting regarding development standards.

Representatives from the development consultant firm Kimley-Horn have suggested height standards of up to 37 feet to allow for variations in roof pitch; 300-square-feet of open space and amenity space per unit; a density standard range of 25 to 30 units per acre; and a 10-foot perimeter setback. Maximum average unit sizes were also discussed.

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