Permits for a 48-home subdivision next to Batiquitos Lagoon won approval from the city's Planning Commission Thursday, March 14, a month after commissioners delayed a decision saying they needed more time to read the applicant's hefty paperwork pile.
Some 3,500 pages of environmental reports and other project-related documents had been submitted to the city by representatives for the Weston family, the owners of the nearly 14-acre, former nursery property along La Costa Avenue just west of Interstate 5.
On Thursday, March 14, commissioners said they had steadily worked their way through the paperwork and had some questions, but ultimately supported the subdivision plans.
Commissioners Bruce Ehlers and Glenn O'Grady both said they thought the future housing development could provide environmental benefits because the stormwater that now rushes across the property's surface into the lagoon would be contained and processed as part of the project.
"Not only does it in essence treat it, it slows it down, too," O'Grady said.
Ehlers said he also liked the fact that the plans called for many single-story homes along La Costa Avenue, rather than going for mostly two-story homes. One limitation he wanted placed on the project was that it never be allowed to have a gated entrance on La Costa -- something that O'Grady said wasn't possible anyway because the city isn't currently allowing developers to build gated housing developments.
Commissioner Brett Farrow, an architect, said he hoped there would be lots of variety in the future homes, noting that the surrounding Leucadia area has an eclectic mix of housing. He said he didn't oppose the subdivision plans, but said he wished the property owners had been required by the city to do habitat restoration work and build a trail segment. It's a "missed opportunity," he said.
City staff members said the landowners weren't being required to do habitat restoration because the site doesn't contain any native habitat and they're also not being required to build a public trail segment because there's no trail to connect to in the area.
David Meyer, a development consultant for the Weston family, told commissioners that while the property owners weren't required to build a trail segment, their plans do call for a lagoon view overlook that will be open to the public.
Development plans for the site have been controversial because of the property's lagoon-side location and because the project is taking advantage of a state "density bonus" law allowing it to put more homes than would normally be allowed in exchange for setting aside some of them for low-income people. Four of the 48 homes will be set aside for low-income residents.
A new point of contention was added to the mix Thursday, March 14, when several project opponents learned they wouldn't be able to voice their opposition to the commissioners.
At the meeting's start, O'Grady, the commission's chairman, told the audience that the commissioners collected public comments during last month's meeting and then closed the comment period. He said that the board's attorney had informed him that it wouldn't be legal to now reopen the public comment period and allow speakers to come forward because the advertisement for the Thursday, March 14, meeting indicated public comment wouldn't occur.
Several opponents told him that wasn't fair, and one said she wanted to register her strong disapproval with his announcement.
During last month's public comment period, five people spoke to the commission and all of them opposed the development plans. Some raised traffic congestion issues; others said wildlife would be harmed and lagoon water contaminated by the project.
On Thursday, March 14, O'Grady said he had heard that there was a rookery with nesting birds near the property and wondered why impacts to it were not addressed in the project's environmental documents. Staff members told him that there were nesting birds in a grove of eucalyptus trees nearby, but those birds were great blue herons, which are not an endangered species.
-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune