Mixed-use project on Highway 101 gets green light from Solana Beach council

After years of planning, false starts and community debate, the Solana Beach City Council approved a mixed-use development at Highway 101 and Dahlia Drive, on the site of a former mobile home park that neighbors described as an "eyesore."

The action to approve the Solana 101 project came on a unanimous vote of the council following more than three hours of discussion and testimony at a meeting on Tuesday, July 10.

More than two dozen Solana Beach residents filled out speaker slips to address the council, and all of the speakers were in favor of the project to be built by Zephyr Partners. The 1.95-acre parcel is the last large open lot along the city's coastal corridor. In 2013, the city spent some $7 million on renovating the Highway 101 corridor, in part to stimulate private development in the area.

Both council members and residents praised the developer for working closely with the community on developing the project, including striking a compromise with four nearby property owners to resolve their concerns about view impacts. And residents had nothing but praise for the project itself, which will bring offices, two restaurants, retail shops and apartments.

"We urge you to accept this, without doubt this will be the greatest thing Solana Beach has ever seen, it's going to connect us all," said resident Tim Sullivan.

John Steel, president of the Surfsong condo association, which is near to the project site, strongly urged the council to approve the project.

"We've lived for many years with an ugly, weed-filled lot. It's time to see that resolved," said Steel.

Before Zephyr came forward with its plan for Solana 101 in 2016, another company, American Assets Trust, had proposed a different mixed-use project for the parcel, which would have been anchored by a supermarket. That plan fell apart in 2015 amid criticisms from residents about view impacts and other issues. American Assets decided not to pursue the plan, and put the property on the market.

Since proposing its project, Zephyr has held open houses for the community, met with a number of community groups and homeowners associations and also worked closely with city officials.

That effort culminated in Tuesday night's unanimous city council vote.

According to a city staff report, the project will entail 93,764 square feet, including 45,500 square feet of office space, 10,500 square feet of restaurant space, 4,100 square feet of retail space and 25 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The project also would include an underground parking garage with two levels. The buildings would be two-story, with the tallest point at 32.2 feet.

City Manager Greg Wade, who gave a presentation on the project to the council, said an environmental study determined that the most significant impact of the project will be the generation of greenhouse gases, both from vehicle traffic and energy consumption by residents and businesses.

In order to reduce the project's carbon footprint, said Wade, the developer has agree to such measures as generating solar power on site, installing 54 electric vehicle charging stations, purchasing green power through Solana Beach's community choice aggregation program and contributing funding for 12 shared electric-powered bicycles.

The developer will also contribute $846,000 to a city fund to provide affordable housing, said Wade.

Those who spoke in favor of the project said it would bring much-needed new restaurants to the city, as well as a new gathering place for city residents and visitors, thanks to its built-in open spaces, outdoor dining areas and pedestrian corridors.

In approving the project, the council accepted the final environmental impact report, and also approved a number of permits, including a design review permit, structure development permit and a major subdivision. The developer will come back to the city with a plan for signage for the project, Wade said.

Before the vote, Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said one of the reasons she came out of "retirement" - she was appointed in April to fill out the term of Councilman Mike Nichols, who resigned - was to approve a project she liked for the Dahlia/Highway 101 parcel.

"This is really great," she said of the Zephyr project.

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