ENCINITAS — Encinitas can develop an affordable housing plan that limits buildings to two stories and less than 30 feet in height and satisfy its regional housing mandates — but they’ll have to make some concessions to get there.
This was the word from a report authored by a city-hired consultant who unveiled his findings at a recent housing element task force meeting.
Encinitas, one of the few cities statewide without a certified housing element — the document that outlines the city’s plans for meeting regionally mandated affordable housing goals — has struggled to find a plan that would pass muster with voters.
Voters rejected the city’s most recent attempt, Measure T, after critics said it would lead to buildings that were too tall and out of scale with the community’s character, among other things.
As a result, the city now faces several lawsuits that are asking a judge to compel them to adopt a housing plan without a public vote.
Dave Barquist, a consultant hired by the city to answer the question of whether the city could develop a housing plan that capped building heights under the limits set by the voter-approved Prop. A, said it’s doable.
According to the report, if the city’s housing plan required sites to be developed at a minimum of 30 units per acre and eliminated sites that produced less than 16 units per acre, the city could draft a plan that results in fewer sites than would have been needed in Measure T.
The removal of the smaller sites would reduce many of the sites in downtown Encinitas and Leucadia.
The key for the four members of the housing element task force was that it could be done under the Proposition A height limits.
“This is good news,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. “Being realistic, we tried the option of three stories, and voters rejected it. The fact that we are at a starting point that assumes that we can create a plan that satisfies Prop. A is a positive.”
Barquist’s analysis, however, said that in order to achieve the goals, the city would have to loosen its rules on how much of lot a developer can build on and how close developments can be to the property line.
The reason, Barquist’s report states, is the only way to keep buildings from being taller is to make them wider.
Some residents over the years have fought any attempts to loosen rules regarding lot coverage and setbacks. Former Councilwoman Teresa Barth in a recent newsletter questioned the trade-off.
“Will more crowded-in two story buildings be better than limited three story buildings with setbacks?” Barth said in the newsletter.
Blakespear acknowledged that the city would have to make some concessions to satisfy voters’ concerns about building heights.
“One of the clearest messages we received from the public feedback was that ‘we don’t want to go to three stories,’” Blakespear said. “The task force has taken that as a primary goal, and in order to achieve it, there have to be concessions in other areas, such as building out instead of building up.
“I think there are tradeoffs that are an overall net positive,” she said.
The task force meets again Sept. 5 at City Hall.