Council's Solana Highlands discussion to continue Dec. 17

After five hours of public speakers and council deliberation, a decision on a contested re-development project and whether to certify its environmental impact report has been tabled to a future meeting.

More than 40 speakers at the Dec. 5 Solana Beach City Council meeting shared their opinions on the proposed Solana Highlands project, which would demolish an existing 196-unit apartment complex to construct a new residential community with 260 residential units — including 32 senior affordable units — a clubhouse, 525 onsite parking spaces, 233 garages, landscaping, recreational amenities and an open space area on 13.41 acres of land.

The project has been contested since 2015, when 15 neighbors submitted view claims against it. The city's View Assessment Commission denied the project in 2015 due to the potential impairment of private views.

Representatives for H.G. Fenton, the project's developer, said in the last three years they have worked to modify buildings to negotiate with the appellants, including lowering building heights, removing buildings to open view corridors, moving from pitched to flat roofs and shifting building locations.

Five claimants submitted new claims this year, with the VAC ultimately denying them Nov. 28 prior to a city council hearing.

Four of the claimants, however, appealed the VAC's decision and presented their reasons against the project to the city council Dec. 5. Many argued their views would be affected due to the building heights, while others shared concerns about tenants parking in nearby neighborhoods due to parking fees, traffic, building mass, noise and light pollution, and a lack of fitting in with the neighborhood character.

John Wilson, who has owned his home on South Nardo for 30 years, said he continues to be concerned with the height of "Building 13," a three-story building which he said story poles have indicated would block his views of nearby places such as the race track and ocean.

John La Reia, project manager for H.G. Fenton, said that building's pad has already been lowered by about nine feet, and they have changed the framing method of the roof to reduce height. Additionally, changing the shape of the roof to flat reduced the height by another 4.5 feet.

But Wilson said the building should be lowered by an additional 18 inches, which could be accomplished by lowering ceilings by 1.5 feet or reducing the number of units.

"The decision is huge for the future of our small community, as it will affect our neighborhoods, our views, our treasured open space, our property values and, ultimately, our quality of life for the next 50 years and probably longer," he said.

Another claimant, Dana Flach, who has owned her home in the Turfwood condominium complex for 23 years, voiced concern about the possible removal of a tree, which straddles the border of her community and the project. She said removing the tree could cause more noise pollution and less privacy to her complex.

Representatives of H.G. Fenton have vowed to plant two trees for every one removed. At a previous meeting, Dave Gatzke, the developer's senior director of entitlement and development, said he's unsure of which trees would be removed because it's unknown how the plants are growing underground. He said his company could look into all solutions, including saving the tree or installing a small retaining wall to mitigate noise and privacy concerns.

But others argued the site's current complex — which was constructed in the 1970s — is old, outdated and in need of a facelift.

"It's going to have to be redone at some point," said resident Paul McKinney. "What we've seen so far looks like Fenton's put in a lot of consideration. ... I think it needs to be done for the good of the community."

Fernando Landa, another supporter of the project, said it would help with environmental quality, with its use of electric vehicle charging stations, solar panels, reduced greenhouse gases and reclaimed water.

Others encouraged the building as an option for renters and seniors on a fixed income.

La Reia said in his presentation that rents for the senior affordable housing — which would have its own recreation center — would be about $859 for a studio, $982 for a one-bedroom and $1,104 for a two-bedroom. Rents for the market rate units would be about $2,500 for a one-bedroom and $3,100 for a two-bedroom, he said.

Michael Nunn, one of the appellants to the project, said he believed the proposed rents were too expensive and argued people who currently live there could be displaced.

"I've seen nothing that says that this project... is going to be affordable for the people who live there now," Nunn said.

Council member Jewel Edson also did not believe it was fair for the senior tenants in affordable housing to have their own recreation center, especially since theirs would not include a swimming pool.

"That's unfortunate because [for] a lot of people — especially for the elderly — swimming is really good for them. It's less impactful on their bodies and joints," she said.

About five hours into the meeting, council members said they did not feel ready to certify an environmental impact report, as they wanted more information in regard to impacts on air quality during construction; hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead; and noise, among other concerns.

The council will continue its discussion on the project on Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. at city hall.

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