Valley Avenue project continued again; public hearing scheduled for Feb. 25

Valley Avenue project continued again; public hearing scheduled for Feb. 25
The third version of plans to develop a run-down lot at 636 Valley Ave. came close to approval at the Jan. 28 meeting. But the public hearing was continued until Feb. 25 because council members said the proposal was still not quite compatible with the surrounding area. File photo by Bianca Kaplanek

SOLANA BEACH — City Council at the Jan. 28 meeting once again prolonged the fate of a mixed-use development that aims to transform an abandoned lot at 636 Valley Ave. into townhomes and office space.

When the project was initially presented to council members in July 2013 it included one retail or office space and four dwelling units in one two-story and three three-story structures on the 10,800-square-foot lot.

The heights varied from a little more than 30 feet to slightly less than the maximum allowable 35 feet.

Residents and council members supported improvements on the lot that included a boarded-up, single-family home that would be demolished, dead grass, weeds and tree branches, a few pairs of abandoned jeans and a rotting knocked-over mailbox.

But they said what was being proposed was too large and did not fit the character of the neighborhood.

“Eden Gardens was established by 30 families of Hispanic descent who still live there,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said at the time. “This is a very special place.

“I’m frankly just not comfortable with the way it’s being developed,” she added. “It’s just something that’s being crammed in there. … I am really struggling with the relationship with adjacent land use.”

Heebner described the existing buildings as “quaint, small, historical” structures. “This is shooting up into the air in a very stark manner with no real respect to what is there.”

The public hearing was continued until September to give Sea Breeze Properties a chance to create what Heebner described as a “more graceful transition” into the neighborhood.

Two months later the developers presented a scaled-down version with the street-facing building set back farther away from the sidewalk.

Although council members and many residents appreciated the changes, they said the project was still too big and not compatible with the surrounding area.

The development was denied without prejudice, allowing the applicants to make changes and resubmit plans without having to wait a year.

Since then the developers conducted extensive community outreach and significantly scaled down the project, eliminating one of the structures and a dwelling unit and lowering the building heights.

Residents praised Sea Breeze for reaching out to them for additional input. Many who opposed the development, including nearby property owners Danny Hernandez and Erin McKinley, support the new plans.

The property currently “invites illicit activity onsite,” McKinley wrote in an email to the city. “Often there are shopping carts and random cars parked on the property. … The developer has done a wonderful job reaching out to the community.”

Hernandez said at the meeting that the development team “truly reached out to the community … (and) listened to all our concerns.”

“I believe this project will benefit the Eden Gardens community by removing an uninhabitable structure and improving a lot that is generally in disrepair,” David Kramer of Oakhurst Builders, a Valley Avenue business, wrote in an email, adding that its quality will “help bring additional energy, activity and investment to our area.”

Pollie Gautsch, an attorney and adjacent property owner, stated the project “will do wonders for the area and does not compromise the integrity of the community.”

But not all residents support the new design. Gary Martin said the developers did a great job revising the proposal “but it’s not yet there.”

Martin said it is still too big and the front building is too close to the sidewalk.

“It shouldn’t be the biggest building in the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s extremely out of scale.

“It’s a great project,” he added. “We’re heading in the right direction.” He urged the developers to “not give up right at the last minute.”

Most council members agreed. Mike Nichols said he liked where the front building was located in the second version.

“You almost took a step back here,” he said.

“You’ve obviously done a great job,” said Councilwoman Ginger Marshall, who supported the revised plans. “I think the project looks good. I think it will be a huge improvement to the neighborhood.”

The public hearing will be continued at the Feb. 25 meeting.

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