Developer revises story-pole plan for Solana Beach apartment complex

Solana Highlands rendering
Solana Highlands rendering
( / Courtesy photo)

After hearing the community’s concerns about a plan to install only 70 percent of the required story poles for the proposed redevelopment of an apartment complex, the developers introduced a new story pole plan during an April 15 workshop and site visit.

About 40 people gathered to hear the revised plan at St. James Academy, next to Solana Highlands on South Nardo and Stevens avenues.

“We had to be a little bit creative,” said project manager John La Raia. “There’s safety issues, which is why we were doing the temporary poles before. Now, we’ve got a different way of doing it to make sure that you see the corner and the sides of the buildings in those areas.”

The revised plan will provide a visual representation of all the buildings for an extended period of time.

The alternative plan uses triangulation.

To safely show the corner of a building in the middle of a drive aisle, for example, support poles would be placed with a wire going across them on each side of the drive aisle. There would be some sort of soft indicator, such as a flag, dropping down to indicate the corner of a building. A wire with flags would also show the side of a building.

There are still some poles that would not be accommodated by this system, however. In those cases, story poles would be over- or under-exaggerated. The developer did not specify exactly how many poles would fall under this category.

The new plan would also be color-coded, with a legend.

“The plan isn’t perfect, but it’s the best that we can do with the situation that we have and maintain the safety that we need to onsite,” La Raia said.

H.G. Fenton Company, which bought the 13.4-acre site in 1998, has plans to demolish and rebuild Solana Highlands, a 194-unit complex constructed in 1972.

Plans include replacing the buildings with 260 one- and two-bedroom apartments in 24 buildings. Thirty-two of the apartments would be affordable units. Plans also include a recreational facility and a pool.

Construction would take place in three phases over 36 to 40 months.

Because the project exceeds 16 feet in height, it is subject to the city’s view process, which includes the installation of story poles to show the proposed project height and general outline of the buildings.

Initially, the developer requested a partial waiver because some story poles would need to be installed in driveways, fire lanes and parking spaces.

During an onsite visit in January, the fire chief and fire marshal confirmed that, if installed, many of the poles and support structures would create a public safety hazard because they would make it difficult or impossible for responders to reach the site.

Therefore, under the original plan, the developer proposed to install only 70 percent of the 182 required story poles.

H.G. Fenton Company planned to display the remaining 30 percent, or 54 poles, in a 3-D digital model. The company also planned to use temporary mobile cranes to simulate the location of the waived poles, according to the original plan.

When the plan was presented during the March 11 Solana Beach City Council meeting, however, more than a dozen people asked council members to deny the request, arguing that they needed to see the “whole story.” The city also received several letters opposing the plan.

Ultimately, the council continued the public hearing so the developer could hold a workshop and refine the plans.

After H.G. Fenton Company introduced the revised plans at the recent workshop, attendees walked over to the property to better visualize some of the proposed story poles.

“The point of the story poles is so that the neighborhood can see the impact on the neighborhood,” said one resident. “I understand the constraint, but if the pole isn’t where the building is going to be, it’s pretty hard to get an idea of the impact.

“At least having something physical where the building is gives you a better idea of where the building will be — even if it’s up in the air.”

H.G. Fenton will present the new plans during the May 6 council meeting.

If approved, the installation will take about two weeks to complete. The poles will remain in place for at least 30 days.

After the installation, the developers plan to hold at least two workshops to answer questions about the story poles. La Raia said he would also meet with residents by appointment.

“We take very seriously how we’re perceived in the community and that we provide good projects in the community,” said Mike Neal, president and CEO of H.G. Fenton Company. “We value your input. We want to do the right thing and provide a high-quality project.”