Council delays action on ‘Desert Rose’ development

Council delays action on ‘Desert Rose’ development
A “Save Desert Rose” sign near where a 16-house development could be built. Residents have opposed the Desert Rose project because they say it will increase traffic and hurt community character, among other concerns. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — Council refrained from weighing in on an appeal Wednesday night made by the developer of a housing plan called “Desert Rose.” 

Those against the plan, mainly the neighborhood near the development, say it threatens rural, horse-friendly Olivenhain. But those representing the project argue the character of the planned homes would be no different than many dwellings already in the area. Moreover, they claim it’s within their rights to put in a 16-home development.

After more than four hours of comments from city staff, lawyers and the public, councilmembers still had legal and environmental questions about the controversial development, so they voted to continue the public hearing March 13.

“I think we need staff to come back with more information,” Mayor Teresa Barth said as the clock neared 11 p.m.

Several months ago, the city’s Planning Commission voted 3-2 to reject plans for the development on the grounds that it’s unsafe and would create too many environmental issues. But the commission’s ruling wasn’t the final word, which is why Council heard the appeal.

Those opposed to the development don’t like that the developers’ plans include a state “high-density bonus” that lets them build 16 homes on the land, instead of no more than 12 units that would be allowed under city standards.

Representing the developer, Attorney Marco Gonzalez argued that regardless of any misgivings about the high-density bonus, state law trumps that of the city. Should the city deny the development, it would open itself to lawsuits, Gonzalez maintained.

“We have to accommodate the density law that the legislature imposes,” Gonzalez said.

City staff’s report also sided with the density law. They recommended that Council grant the appeal, despite some residents saying the city should challenge an unfair law.

Residents voiced additional concerns at the meetings.

They contend that the development will lead to greater traffic on nearby streets, particularly stretches of Rancho Santa Fe Road that are already choked up.

Among their safety concerns: The development doesn’t call for a second “escape road” in the event of an emergency like a fire. As such, they say residents would overwhelm the streets when scrambling to evacuate.

Community character was also an issue raised at the meeting.

Resident Eric Graupner said he moved to Olivenhain because his kids “can walk along a horse trail flanked on either side by mature Eucalyptus trees.” However, many of trees will be cut down if the development is approved, he said.

Karen Holbrook said the development flies in the face of the community’s equestrian roots.

“This proposed project seeks to blithely ignore the intent and purpose of the founding of Encinitas as a city,” Holbrook said, adding that the project would hurt horse trails that many residents enjoy.

Council will get more in-depth information from staff on March 13 about the development’s impact on traffic. Councilmembers also requested more information about areas where they might be legally vulnerable if they deny the development.

Councilman Mark Muir recused himself from the Desert Rose hearing. As the former fire chief, he reviewed the fire-protection component of the development.


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