Solana Beach’s view panel denies multi-use development on Dahlia and 101

After listening to concerns from two Solana Beach residents, the city’s View Assessment Commission on March 17 denied a proposed multi-use development on South Coast Highway 101, Dahlia Drive and South Sierra Avenue.

Property owner American Assets Trust purchased the 1.9-acre lot in 2011. The site was previously used as a mobile-home park. Run-down buildings also sit on the site.

The proposed project includes 31 apartments, about 34,500 square feet of restaurant and retail space, about 14,100 square feet of office space and a 341-space, two-level underground parking garage.

The commercial and retail businesses would face Highway 101, while residential units would be located along Sierra Avenue. The tallest portion of the structure reaches 35 feet — the maximum allowable height.

“We’re working with American Assets to really envision and design a truly mixed-use project for this project site,” said Jim Gabriel of Architects Hanna Gabriel Wells, adding that the development aims to “celebrate” the corner of Highway 101 and Dahlia Drive with a public plaza, which would be surrounded by commercial, retail and office space.

“We really believe the project is designed to fit the scale of the community, and we think it really relates well to both the neighboring commercial and residential uses,” he said. “We’re confident that the project will ultimately enhance the views across the site by removing the existing dilapidated buildings, the broken-up concrete, the weeds, and replacing them with an appropriately scaled architecture.”

After story poles were installed and neighboring community members were notified, the city received view assessment applications from two residents by the Jan. 26 deadline. Greg Wedig and Kara Kornher both live in condominiums on Sierra Avenue.

Photographs depicting the views from various rooms in their homes were displayed during the meeting, illustrating the project’s impact on their views, based on the story pole placement.

Although Wedig said he was “happy” a mixed-use project was being proposed for Solana Beach, he wished it didn’t affect his views.

“I don’t believe there is really any disagreement that the major portions of my view will be entirely blocked if the proposed height of the project is approved,” Wedig said. “Not only will the views be blocked, but the building would be so intrusively tall, that the effect would be tantamount (to) going from beach-city living to big-city downtown urban living — an environment where tall buildings overwhelmingly intrude as to produce a walled-in effect.”

The view impacts, he added, would have a “detrimental effect” on his property value.

“I don’t believe the proposed structure is designed or situated in such a manner as to minimize impairment of views,” he said. “Nor do I believe the proposed structure is compatible with the immediate neighborhood character.”

“It’s a really beautiful view that I would be sad to lose,” added Kornher, who has lived in her home for almost 19 years.

Both residents said they had not heard from anyone at American Assets regarding their view concerns.

Wedig said he made multiple requests to meet with someone from the company, but no one contacted him.

“The applicant never attempted to contact me regarding negotiations,” he said. “Therefore, I believe it is fair to say that the applicant for the structure development permit has not made a reasonable attempt to resolve the view and permit issues with me.”

Tracy Richmond, a local attorney and former View Assessment Commission member, said he believed views at both properties would be affected by the project.

“The company really hasn’t done anything to address the views,” he said.

Although American Assets did not directly respond to the applicants, Gabriel said he contacted both Wedig and Kornher and visited their properties.

“After our assessment of their views and looking at the project, we did not see a solution,” he said.

In addition, Gabriel said the company invited homeowners associations to community workshops where residents were encouraged to ask questions and submit comments. After the meetings, he said, his team received letters from the homeowners associations “showing complete unanimous support for the project.”

“It catches me off guard, I gotta say, when the applicants came in and said we’ve completely disregarded or made no attempt to work with them, when we honestly thought we were making serious attempts to work with the community,” said Gabriel, who said his team received no comments regarding the project’s scale or height.

The commission sided with the applicants.

As an advisory board, the commission must make five findings when making recommendations to the council: The applicant has made a reasonable attempt to resolve view impairment issues; the proposed structure does not significantly impair views from public property; the proposed structure is designed and situated to minimize view impairment; there are no significant cumulative view impairments; and the proposed structure is compatible with the immediate surrounding neighborhood character.

Commission members could not make most of the findings, particularly that the applicant made a reasonable attempt to resolve view impairment issues and that the proposed structure is designed and situated to minimize view impairment.

Noting that “views are part of the city’s DNA,” commission member Jack Hegenauer said the views from both units “are significant and the impairment is not only significant, but it’s actually rather complete.”

“It’s pretty clear that not much, if anything, has been done to minimize view impairment,” he said.

“The record is virtually devoid of any meaningful communication between the applicant and the appellants,” he added. “I think the appellants asked for some consideration. What they got in return was a visitation to their property to see the situation. But their further attempts to communicate with the architect and further up the line, up the food chain, were pretty much rebuffed.”

His colleagues agreed.

“The design certainly is not set up to minimize impairment,” said commission member Dean Pasko. “There is a potential for significant cumulative impacts.”

“There didn’t seem to be an attempt to resolve the view impairments as brought forth by the appellants,” added member Rebecca Lawson.

The commission denied the project 4-0-1, with two members absent. With the commission’s recommendations, the council will make the final decision on the project.