Council to discuss tree buffer plan for Leo Mullen Sports Park

ENCINITAS — A 13-tree “wall” aimed at blocking lighting from the Leo Mullen Sports Park soccer field from an adjacent neighborhood is up for approval at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The proposed tree buffer was part of a compromise reached in November between neighbors of the Cambria at Encinitas Ranch subdivision, the Encinitas Express soccer club and the city, which would allow for the soccer club to resume using temporary field lights to illuminate the park’s lone soccer field — which serves as the soccer club’s home — and pave the way for permanent lights at the park.

According to the plans up for the council’s approval Wednesday, the city would plant 13 total, 15-gallon Tristania trees — eight on one side of the park’s baseball field and five on the other side of the baseball field — which would buffer the light emanating from the soccer field.

The trees, according to the soccer organization representatives, grow rapidly — anywhere from two to three feet a year — and grow to about 50-feet tall with a 10-foot to 30-foot canopy. The trees can grow on slopes and don’t require a lot of water.

The tree buffer will cost the city $2,275, and an additional $1,300 a year for six years to trim, maintain and water them.

Encinitas Express has lobbied the city for nearly two years to install artificial turf and permanent lighting at the soccer field located adjacent to the Encinitas Ranch Town Center, which serves as the organization’s primary practice field.

Currently, the rules governing the Encinitas Ranch neighborhood prohibit lights at the park, which the soccer club, of about 1,700 participants, says reduces practice time.

After nearly a year of delays, the city proceeded with installing the artificial turf and completed it in September. But soccer club officials said without the lights, the lack of practice time could force the club to shut down.

The lighting has proven to be more complex, as neighbors and residents have questioned if installing lights would trigger an election under Proposition A, and whether the impacts of the lighting needed additional environmental scrutiny.

City Attorney Glenn Sabine issued an opinion in March 2016 that a public vote wouldn’t be required as long as the field lights were below 30 feet.

The City Council in October unanimously voted to move forward with the process of amending the specific plan that governs Encinitas Ranch to allow for permanent field lights, but Cambria residents — many of whom were among the subdivision’s original owners — protested the move, arguing that they bought their homes with the understanding the field would never have lights.

This led to the November vote in which the council agreed to return with a plan for a tree buffer.

According to the staff report, city staff met with members of the Cambria Home Owners Association, who signaled support of the proposal and presented the information to the rest of the association board.

If approved, the trees would be planted next month.

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