ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council has agreed to begin negotiating a lease with an air ambulance provider for a former fire house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, but also to explore the possibility of re-zoning the property for residential use at a future date.
The council voted 4-1 to enter negotiations with GJ Trippe Inc to lease the property. The Carlsbad-based non-emergency ambulance provider had proposed a five-year, $2,500-a-month lease for Fire Station No. 2, located near the corner of Mackinnon Avenue and Birmingham Drive.
But the council’s approval also calls for the city’s finance and planning staff to bring back information about the steps it would take to re-zone the property for housing, which under Proposition A would require an election.
The majority of the council signaled that they would like to have the property become a residential property, which would be more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. But division arose as to whether the city should keep the property long term or sell it.
Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she believed the city should not sell the property, while Gaspar said she would not want the city to be in the position of being a residential landlord.
“I think it is also important to know that owning property is a forced savings plan,” Blakespear said. “We don’t need to create additional cash that will kind of float away and be used for all sorts of other things.”
The city over the past few months had solicited proposals for the former station. It received five proposals, three for an outright purchase, one for an outright lease and another that has options for both a lease and a purchase.
After analyzing the proposals, city staff signaled their preference for three:
- A proposed $500,000 purchase by Najjar Enterprises, LLC, which is 22 percent higher than the building’s $410,000 appraised value. John Najjar is the owner of Cardiff Seaside Market and sees the property as an investment opportunity and will work with the city to find the proper tenant.
- An offer for $410,000 by John and Whitney Musser, who want to convert the property into a residential property. According to a city staff report, their offer is contingent on a satisfactory property inspection and they would also incur the cost of rezoning the property, which would require a local election.
- Trippe’s hybrid lease-or-purchase proposal to operate a non-emergency ambulance service. The company’s purchase offer is for $420,000, and its lease offer is for five years, $2,500 a month, with the company committing to $40,000 in tenant improvements.
City staff did not favor two of the options:
- A proposed $450,000 by Chad Dunham, who wants to convert it into a house, but expects the city to bear the costs of re-zoning the property from its current public zoning to residential zoning.
- An offer by local beach cleanup nonprofit H2O Trash Patrol to lease it for 36 months for $2,000 a month with an option to buy the property outright at the lease’s conclusion. City staff said the use is not allowed in the current zoning and would require an election to change the designation. Additionally, it said that Trippe’s lease offer of $2,500 a month is higher than the nonprofit’s.
The council in January authorized staff to issue a request for letters of interest to purchase or lease the 52-year-old fire station, which closed its doors in 2012 to make way for a new fire station on Birmingham Drive. The council emphasized at the time that it was more interested in leasing the property as opposed to selling it.
A group of city staff management analysts as well as a staffer from the city of San Marcos formed the team that evaluated each of the proposals. San Marcos’ advice was solicited as it has a significant amount of city property that it almost exclusively leases, according to a staff report.