Council considers zoning standards for housing plan

The Encinitas City Council once again mulled over how to zone for future development on May 23, this time discussing zoning standards such as total building height, parking and unit sizes.

Over the last year, the council has deliberated sites to be included on its draft Housing Element Update, which it sent to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) last month in order to help the city get in compliance with state law. It sent a revision to that document, after some of the original sites were removed and replaced, earlier this month.

Council members at Wednesday’s meeting did not appear to agree with the city's hired consultant that units should be based on a range of sizes, but rather by a maximum average. Dave Barquist, of the development consultant firm Kimley-Horn, warned the council that a maximum average would not allow flexibility in unit count.

But council member Tasha Boerner Horvath said she wants to encourage diversity of unit sizes within a site, as well as a distinction between sizes of for-sale and for-rent homes.

Bruce Ehlers -- who led the effort against the city's last attempt at a Housing Element, Measure T, in 2016 and now sits on the Encinitas' Housing Element Update Task Force and Planning Commission -- said the Planning Commission advised May 17 that there should be a maximum average size "to keep the size of the balloon from getting too big" and also "set a maximum range so the large ones didn't get too large."

Building heights were also discussed. Kimley-Horn had suggested height standards of up to 37 feet, but council members on Wednesday said they preferred a range of 33 to 34 feet to accommodate variations in roof pitch. The Planning Commission also agreed May 17 that buildings should be a 30-foot maximum, with an additional maximum of four feet for a pitched roof or three feet for a parapet, Ehlers noted.

Ehlers advised that the opponents of Measure T would not approve building heights of more than 30 feet at three stories. However, he said 33 to 34 feet with variations in roof pitches might be a good compromise.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear expressed concerns that limiting buildings to 34 feet would amount to "less of a high quality product." She said she prefers three stories at 37 feet to allow for a variety in roof pitches and taller ceilings.

"I want us to have high-quality products," she said. "To me, this sounds like something that is reasonable."

In regard to parking, Barquist has suggested a variety of solutions, including on surfaces, tucked under or in garages. Ehlers advised low-income people would not be able to afford to live in complexes with underground or multi-structure parking. He encouraged at-grade parking.

Boerner Horvath said the city should explore methods to ensure cars are parked in designated garages. Kimley-Horn has advised a mandate that each parking lot have storage space to avoid garages being used for any purpose other than parking vehicles.

Council member Tony Kranz said the parking strategy should not encourage density bonuses on every level. Barquist has proposed one-and-one-half parking spaces for studios and one-bedrooms, and two spaces for two- and three-bedrooms. Affordable units would be offered about one-half to one fewer parking spaces per unit, depending on the size of the unit, based on Barquist's recommendation.

No formal action was taken at the meeting. Instead, city staff plans to draft a document based on the council’s recommendations to bring back for approval. The city council plans to take its proposed housing element to the voters this November. The amended housing document, including updated zoning standards based on the council's recommendations, will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on June 7. The city council will hold a public hearing on the document on June 20 and is expected to adopt the new Housing Element for voter consideration in July.

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.

The city is also the subject of three lawsuits regarding the lack of the updated document. At a court hearing April 30, Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier granted Encinitas an extension until after the November election to rule on whether the city has failed to comply with state law and whether it should be forced to adopt a previously written plan.

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