Council finds compromise, moves Housing Element forward

Council finds compromise, moves Housing Element forward
The Encinitas City Council emerged with a unanimous vote on three housing maps that will be analyzed as part of the city's housing element efforts. Image courtesy city of Encinitas

ENCINITAS — After a contentious start to another lengthy public hearing last week, the Encinitas City Council emerged with a unanimous vote on three housing maps that will be analyzed as part of the city’s housing element efforts.

The council’s 5-0 vote at the Feb. 5 special session came after Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir voted to move forward with map discussions that night with several conditions. One of those conditions was that city staff return at an upcoming council meeting with an item to immediately cancel the city’s contract with Peak Democracy, which powers the city’s online civic engagement platform, eTown Hall.

Gaspar and Muir on Feb. 3 had criticized the results of the city’s outreach efforts, which they said represented such a small and limited sampling of the city’s population that it was difficult to proceed forward with the information at hand.

The housing element is the city’s first comprehensive overhaul of its housing and residential zoning map in more than 20 years, and will map out where an anticipated 1,300 units of affordable housing will be placed within the city. Voters are expected to vote on the plan in 2016.

The plan will require the city adopt a new zoning designation that would allow upwards of 30 residential units per acre in order to satisfy the state affordable housing mandate. City officials said the plan is critical because the city faces lawsuits and state action if it does not update the housing element.

Blakespear set the road to middle ground in motion when, at the start of the meeting, she invited Gaspar and Muir to air their grievances about the process and what would it take for the two to find common ground with the council moving forward.

Gaspar and Muir said they would only move forward with the conditions that the wheels be set in motion to terminate the Peak Democracy contract, that the housing element’s policy document state that zone changes are optional for property owners, that the city place multiple maps on the 2016 ballot and that city staff evaluate other mapping strategies before they move the housing element documents to the environmental process.

Councilmembers Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz voted against the first vote, arguing that Thursday was not the appropriate venue to determine the fate of eTown Hall and defending staff’s efforts in developing both maps, mapping strategies and public outreach.

“To try to jettison eTown Hall in this setting is totally inappropriate,” Shaffer said.

The back and forth between the council members at times got heated, but ultimately, the first vote set in motion the rest of the discussion, during which the council settled on the three maps it will likely use for environmental review.

The first two maps were borne from the Peak Democracy efforts: The most popular of staff’s ready made options and the most popular option from the “build your own” mapping efforts.

The third map emerged from the council and planning commission’s joint deliberations and includes a couple of locations that were not previously studied by city staff: the LA Fitness shopping center on South El Camino Real, two parcels just east of the intersection of Rancho Santa Fe Road and Encinitas Blvd., a parcel near the intersection of North El Camino Real and Leucadia Boulevard and a parcel owned by a church on Manchester Avenue where the church wants to build senior housing.

The maps selected would yield about 1,800 new units, but officials said it was prudent to study more units and withdraw sites from the final ballot item, as opposed to understudying proposals, and be stymied by the results of the subsequent environmental review.

“It’s a lot easier to run in to catch a fly ball than to run out and catch a fly ball,” Planning Commissioner Anthony Brandenburg said. “It makes sense to study as much as we can in this initial phase.”

The council also directed staff to explore the possibility of overlay zones, a planning term that where properties in a blanket area would have the option of rezoning their property, but the underlying zoning would remain intact unless requested. City staff said the overlay strategy was used in the city of Poway as part of its successful housing element update.

The overlay zone could also alleviate one of the chief concerns of critics of the housing element process: the city could restrict the housing developed in the overlay zone to low-income residents.

Chief of the opponents complaints is that the by creating denser zoning, which state officials view as a proxy for affordability, the city would be essentially gifting developers the opportunity to build market-rate condominiums and apartments, which would defeat the purpose of the housing element.

Finally, the council directed staff to explore an alternative plan pitched by Bob Bonde, which again looks at accessory dwelling units as a method of satisfying part or all of the city’s regional housing needs. Some officials, however, cautioned that the implications of every single family home having accessory units would be significant.

“If the council is going the accessory unit route, what we are saying is that every single family home in the city is duplex,” Commissioner JoAnn Shannon said. “To me, if there is something that is going to change the character of the community, this is going to change it more than a few multi-unit apartments around the town.”

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