ENCINITAS — Council granted the appeal of developers in a 3-0 vote Wednesday night, allowing the controversial, 16-home “Desert Rose” project to move forward after years of debate.
Residents near the housing project believe it will fundamentally alter the rural, equestrian nature of Olivenhain.
Councilman Tony Kranz said he’s greatly enjoyed the character of Olivenhain since he was a kid. That made mulling over Desert Rose even tougher, he said. But ultimately, he made a motion to approve the project, because he felt he had the “sword of Damocles” hanging over him due to the state’s density-bonus law.
“In spite of my campaign promise to uphold community character and to do what’s right by your neighborhood, I unfortunately have the dubious honor of having to uphold state density-bonus law,” Kranz said.
Under state law, projects can build more units than normally allowed on proposed building sites in exchange for promising to build low-income housing. In the case of Desert Rose, the developers plan to construct one low-income housing unit as part of the 16-home project.
City staff said that denying Desert Rose would conflict with density-bonus law, opening the city up to lawsuits.
Mayor Teresa Barth said the state’s density-bonus law “seems unfair to the community.” But as a consolation, she said Desert Rose is at least the most considerate density-bonus housing project she’s come across. Namely, the developers weren’t required to provide off-street parking and other amenities, but they did, she said.
Later, Barth said the city should look at ways it can reduce the attractiveness of density-bonus law for developers.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer abstained from the Council vote. Shaffer said she didn’t think she had enough solid information to base her decision on.
“I’m not happy with the quality of the analysis that’s been done,” Shaffer said.
Councilman Mark Muir recused himself from the hearing. As the former fire chief, he reviewed the fire-protection component of the development.
After the vote, residents opposed to the development quickly shuffled out of Council Chambers, clearly disappointed.
In December, the city’s Planning Commission voted 3-2 to reject plans for the development on the grounds that it’s unsafe and would create environmental issues.
During the public comment’s section, residents urged council to affirm that ruling.
Greg Gorgas said Desert Rose poses safety concerns in the form of increased traffic. As such, he said the city should order an environmental impact report.
“A walled in, high-density community at the end of a cul-de-sac with very limited access is unprecedented in Olivenhain,” Gorgas said.
He added that the project would cut down trees in the area. And he said a 25-foot wetland buffer proposed by the developer should be moved back to alleviate the impact on the nearby habitat.
Representing the developer, attorney Marco Gonzalez said the city can’t request an environmental impact report, because the housing project won’t have a substantial impact on the environment. Further, he added that project will clean up the wetlands.
Resident Mark Brampson said the city’s staff analysis underestimates the risk of a fire in the area.
“The proposed subdivision is adjacent to an open space that contains fuel complexes capable of generating embers,” Brampson said.
He added that the staff’s analysis doesn’t fully take into account the effect of strong winds on a fire.
Scott Henry, the city’s fire chief, said that it’s difficult to anticipate fire behavior. Yet compared to denser, forested areas, he said that grasses in proximity to the development should burn quickly and hence would be unlikely to create tall walls of flames.
As part of the Council’s motion, the city will amend design elements of the plan, including the materials used to construct a planned fence around the development.