Solana Beach City Council denies Eden Gardens project

By Kristina Houck

After hearing mixed opinions from speakers, the Solana Beach City Council on Sept. 11 unanimously denied a proposed Eden Gardens mixed-use development project.

Council members on July 10 previously sent the proposed project, which would be built at 636 Valley Ave., back to the developer, Sea Breeze Properties, because they said it was too large and not compatible with the neighborhood of Eden Gardens, also known as La Colonia.

The plan proposes the construction of four structures on the 10,874-square-foot lot. One building would include commercial space for an office or retail business on the first floor and a two-bedroom unit on the second floor. The other buildings would be three-story, three-bedroom detached townhomes, each with a first-floor garage and two levels of living space.

The buildings were originally designed higher than 30 feet, with the tallest at almost 35 feet. Architects reduced the height of the proposed buildings and walls, cut grading, shifted the location of the structures, added bicycle parking and changed the color of the buildings. As now designed, the tower on the western side of the mixed-use building was reduced from 30 feet and 6 inches to 20 feet. Architects also reduced the height of the townhomes, by 3 feet for one unit and 2 feet for the other units.

The original plan designated 14 parking spaces, five for the office or retail space, two for each home and a guest space. Developers now proposed guests share the office parking in the evening.

In fear of changing the historic neighborhood, nine community members argued against the project.

“I’m having a hard time looking at this picture and seeing how this fits into La Colonia,” said Lisa Montes, whose family moved to Eden Gardens in 1927. “This, to me, does not fit into La Colonia. This is a futuristic building with lots of windows and a different kind of design … We’re going to lose the character of this community if this building is put in place.”

Longtime Eden Gardens resident Sylvia Aspeytia added, “We’re getting squeezed out of our own hometown with all these buildings and businesses coming up. That’s not fair. That’s not right.

“It’s our hometown, and they’re taking it away from us — these big developers.”

Project Manager Joshua Lichtman said the project would improve the area and increase safety because the boarded-up, single-family home currently at the lot attracts the homeless. Lichtman added that he and his team reached out to community members, listened to their concerns and altered project designs based on those concerns.

“We’ve done a lot of canvassing, we talked it out and we heard,” he said. “We did a lot of things that they wanted.”

Nine other speakers supported the project.

“I saw some of the sketches of the project, and I was very much impressed,” said Gabriel Granados, owner of six properties in Eden Gardens, including Don Chuy Mexican Restaurant at 650 Valley Ave. “I believe that putting something like that there would be a big plus to our community.”

Aaron Epstein, who stood next to his pregnant wife, Julia, said the couple wanted to raise their family in Eden Gardens.

“The passion we’re hearing in this room is precisely one of the reasons why this area is so appealing to us,” said Epstein, who moved to San Diego from New York a year ago. “We want to be a part of the community.”

After listening to new testimony and seeing photos neighborhood residents provided of their views, council members said they supported improvements to the lot and appreciated the design changes, but they still had concerns about the project.

“Change is change,” said Mayor Mike Nichols. “I think it just has to happen incrementally, or it has to happen over a period of time, where it just doesn’t all of a sudden change over night. I think that this project has the ability, as designed, to tilt the scale and change the entire character of that neighborhood.”

Because council members denied the project without prejudice, the applicant can return to the council with redesigned plans at a later date. In that time, council members can visit the site and speak with members of the community without jeopardizing public hearing rules.