Council gives green light to Solana Highlands project

A rendering of the Solana Highlands re-development project
(H.G. Fenton /

A Solana Beach redevelopment project jumped one of its biggest hurdles Monday, Dec. 17, as it was approved by the city council after about three years of debate and re-designs.

The council — with council member Peter Zahn absent — unanimously approved the Solana Highlands project, following two special meetings that cumulated to about eight hours of discussion.

Project plans call for the demolition of 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. Four of those claimants appealed that decision, but the council also denied their appeals Monday.

One appeal, by John Wilson, who has owned his home on South Nardo for 30 years, "had the most notable impacts," said Mayor David Zito.

Wilson has expressed concerns 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 LaRaia, project manager for H.G. Fenton, has 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, he said.

Zito said the project should add a condition regarding controlling nearby vegetation to help maintain Wilson's open view. Additionally, council member Lesa Heebner said Building 13 should be lowered by an additional six inches, and no structures, including solar panels, should sit on top of the building.

Residents living near the project urged the council to provide a landscape buffer for the project and consider a single-phased construction approach with no demolition on Saturdays.

They also advocated against the complex charging residents for parking and for garages only to be used for cars, rather than as storage units. Neighbors said if the complex charges residents for parking, that would entice people to park on nearby streets, which are already crowded and riddled with traffic congestion.

Adrian Davenport, who has lived on the nearby Nardo Avenue for six years, said the street is already dangerous with a curvy, steep road with parked cars and vehicles traveling at high speeds down the hill.

"It's really imperative that the dangerous conditions on Nardo are not made worse," she said.

Council member Judy Hegenauer advocated for the addition of traffic- calming measures on Nardo Avenue, including speed tables, to help make the street safer.

The council approved the project and asked that the community pool be open for guests of the seniors living in affordable housing, and said the project should also be approached in one phase with no demolition work on Saturdays. The body will have to go through subsequent approvals for landscape, traffic calming and street improvement plans, and will also review parking conditions before construction begins. The California Coastal Commission will also have to approve a coastal development permit for the project.

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