Solana Beach City Council postpones decision on revised Eden Gardens project


Although several neighbors spoke in favor of the proposed Eden Gardens mixed-use development, the Solana Beach City Council Jan. 28 once again decided to postpone the project’s fate to a later date.

The proposed project aims to transform an abandoned lot at 636 Valley Ave. into office space and three townhomes. After reviewing revised project plans, the council continued the public hearing to the Feb. 25 meeting.

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.

“I do know that a lot of effort has gone into this project,” said David Kramer, a Solana Beach resident since 1998. “We now have an opportunity to take this lot, which we look at every day, and make it into something that’s pretty nice.”

“My husband and I know change is inevitable in our neighborhood, and only embrace responsible developing to try to maintain our current quality of living in Solana Beach,” said Tara Hernandez, a nearby property owner who has lived in Solana Beach for 28 years. “I am here publicly supporting the project. I would like to thank Josh Lichtman and his partners for working with us and being responsible developers.”

“Josh and his partners truly reached out to the community,” added Tara’s husband, Danny Hernandez. “They’ve done a great job. They’ve listened to all our concerns. Like my wife said, we know our neighborhood’s going to change; we just want it to change responsibly.”

Not all community members supported the latest revisions, however.

“It’s a great improvement over what they had before, but we need to fix a few things before we get there to make it really work for the community,” said resident Gary Martin, who argued the project is still too big and the proposed front building is too close to the sidewalk. “We’re heading in the right direction. We just need to work on that street presence right up front and not give up right at the last minute.

“Eden Gardens is a great place, and Eden Gardens has a lot to give. With a little more work, this could be a great project.”

Most council members agreed that the project is headed in the right direction, but still needs some fine-tuning.

“We all agree that a project here is needed because what’s there now is blighted,” said Councilman Mike Nichols, noting that he preferred where the front building was located in the previous design.

“For that very reason alone, I can’t support the project because I don’t think it fits in with the character of the community.”

“Keeping this community character is a precious and tight balance,” Councilman Peter Zahn said, agreeing that the setback of the street-facing building was “extreme, harsh and abrupt.”

“This is really very close,” added Deputy Mayor David Zito. “I’m sitting on the fence right now.”