Solana Beach City Council approves revised Eden Gardens project

After a year and a half and multiple redesigns, the Solana Beach City Council on Feb. 25 approved an Eden Gardens mixed-use development that aims to transform an abandoned lot at 636 Valley Ave. into office space and three townhomes.

“I’d really like to thank the applicants for sticking with this,” said Deputy Mayor David Zito. “It’s a very, very interesting process at times, and I think you’ve been very persistent. It’s great to see people make adjustments and come back and present those adjustments.

“I’m appreciative of the changes, and at this point, I can support it.”

When developers initially presented the project in July 2013, it included an office or retail space and four dwelling units on the more-than-10,800-square-foot lot. The building heights varied from a little more than 30 feet to nearly the maximum allowable 35 feet.

Some residents argued the project would change the historical neighborhood, increase traffic and not provide adequate parking. The council continued the public hearing until September to allow then-developer Sea Breeze Properties to revise the project to better fit the community’s character.

“This is Eden Gardens, a very special place,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, now mayor, said at the time. “I, frankly, am not very comfortable with the way it’s being developed.”

In September, developers presented a scaled-down version of the project. Although council members and some residents received the changes positively, they argued it was still too large and incompatible with the community. The council denied the project without prejudice, allowing the applicant to submit redesigned plans without having to wait a year.

Since then, project manager Joshua Lichtman has taken the reins as developer of the project, with the owner of Sea Breeze Properties becoming an investor. Lichtman and his team have worked closely with the community and further scaled down the project. They eliminated one of the structures and a dwelling unit, and lowered the building heights.

During the Jan. 28 meeting, several residents praised Lichtman and his team for listening to the community and using their input. Nearly all speakers — some who once opposed the project — spoke in favor of the revised plans. Several others sent emails to the council in favor of the project.

Most council members agreed the project was headed in the right direction, but some said it still needed some fine-tuning and continued the public hearing to the Feb. 25 meeting.

Councilman Mike Nichols, for example, said he preferred where the front building was located in the previous design. Councilman Peter Zahn agreed and said the setback of the street-facing building was “extreme, harsh and abrupt.”

When Lichtman and his team returned to the council last week, they presented a further scaled-down version of the project with the street-facing building set back farther away from the sidewalk.

Although Lichtman said it was financially “unfeasible” for his team to relocate the existing utility pole in front of the development, the redesigned plans allowed better access for pedestrians in other ways.

With already one foot dedicated, the first floor of the mixed-use structure was set back 3 feet from the property line at the southwestern corner. The living area of the dwelling unit on the second story of the mixed-use building was also set back 8 feet.

The finished floor of the commercial office or retail section of the mixed-use structure was lowered six inches, allowing access directly from the sidewalk from a walkway and eliminating the need for handrail extensions that would project into the vehicular or pedestrian circulation areas.

Among other changes, the team also reduced the overall square footage of the project by 110 square feet. The dwelling unit located in the mixed-use building was decreased by 134 square feet, while the office or retail space was increased by 24 square feet.

“It has a warmer feel on the street,” Lichtman said. “It has less mass and scale when you’re walking down Valley Avenue.”

Prior to the council’s vote, two Solana Beach residents spoke in favor of the project.

“I think it’s a project of progress and I hope you’ll approve the project,” Adam Daniels said.

“When I first heard about this project, I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea, truly a great addition to our community,” Brooke Klein said. “I think it can give individuals, such as myself, an opportunity to hopefully buy in this lovely city.”

Also in favor of the latest changes, the council unanimously approved the project.

“Thank you very much,” Heebner said. “I appreciate all the time and effort. I think when you look at the first rendition and you look at this, there is a huge difference. It is a much-improved project. It’s a very visible project in Eden Gardens, and I think we’ve got it right.”