Solana Beach council tries to find way to have project poles tell the whole ‘story’

After hearing from concerned community members, the Solana Beach City Council on March 11 decided to continue a public hearing rather than deny a request to install only 70 percent of the required story poles for the proposed redevelopment of an apartment complex on South Nardo and Stevens avenues.

“To get a complete story, you need complete story poles,” said resident David Checkley. “If you put up an incomplete set of story poles, you’re going to get an incomplete story.”

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 installing story poles to show the proposed project height and general outline of the buildings.

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 late 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. If installed, some of the poles would also create access issues for the 440 residents and result in a temporary loss of about 60 parking spaces, according to the staff report.

In February, city staff conducted a second site visit to review the plan and alternatives.

After the site visit, the developer requested a partial story pole waiver and proposed an alternative story pole plan. Under the plan, about 70 percent of the 182 required story poles would be installed. The remaining 30 percent, or 54 poles, would be displayed in a 3-D digital model.

The company would also use temporary mobile cranes to simulate the location of the waived poles. Last, after the poles were installed, the company would host story pole orientations on two Saturdays.

The city received several letters, and more than a dozen people spoke at the meeting urging council members to deny the request.

“The applicant has proposed a project that will radically transform Nardo in many ways,” said resident George Boyd.

“We want to see all of the story poles so that as we walk, bike and drive, we can see how the existing views are impacted. There’s no other way to do it. Holding up pictures ain’t going to work. We have to see the real thing.”

“We really want to see the whole project,” said resident Phil Weber. “One story pole here, one story pole there doesn’t do any good.”

“Putting 30 percent of the poles up for only a few minutes or hours, for only two days of time, is not fair and violates the view ordinance,” said resident Jim Ratzer, who previously served on the city’s View Assessment Committee. “Residents need to be allowed to experience the impact of their views at different times of day over an extended period.”

Some of the speakers suggested that residents of the complex park at nearby St. James Catholic Church so more story poles could be installed. A shuttle provided by the developer could bus them to and from their homes, one speaker said. Another proposed that all residents move out of the complex so story poles could be installed at the site, but City Attorney Johanna Canlas noted the city would have to cover the cost of relocating the residents. Others asked that the developer use string to link the poles in order to outline the proposed development.

Ratzer called for a community meeting or workshop with the applicant and city staff.

“I would ask you to schedule a meeting or maybe workshops where we could invite the affected neighbors, the city manager and the developer so we can work together to arrive at a story poling approach that is fair to everyone,” he said.

Both the council and the developer supported that recommendation.

“We do care what our impact is,” said Mike Neal, president and CEO of H.G. Fenton. “We’ve been in the community a long time, we’re going to be in the community a long time.

“We have looked at many alternatives to try to install all the story poles. There are some significant challenges,” he added. “We’re happy to meet with anybody. Maybe there is an idea out there that we haven’t thought of, but we have thought of a lot of them.”

After hearing from the community, Mayor Lesa Heebner said the plan should be reviewed to determine whether additional poles could be installed.

“I do think that the residents have a right to see the full development and the impacts it will have on them from their living room,” she said.

Most of her colleagues agreed.

“I’m having a hard time with it,” said Councilman Mike Nichols. “The applicant has stated that there may be an idea out there that they have not considered. I think it would be good if they all got together and talked about it.”

“This is a potentially impactful project,” added Deputy Mayor David Zito. “Our goal needs to be to get as many of these story poles up as possible.”

The developer will schedule a workshop with the community. The public hearing will continue at the April 8 council meeting.