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Access road through wetlands has residents up in arms

ENCINITAS — The Planning Commission agreed to allow an access road connecting a proposed development to La Costa Avenue to be built through the wetlands as the first stage in a development project on the southern edge of Batiquitos Lagoon during a special meeting July 24.
The original public hearing was rescheduled from May 21 because residents in the neighboring La Costa Glen retirement community were not properly notified of the meeting. Their response to the project has pitted neighbor against potential neighbor with accusations of greed on both sides and environmental concerns hanging precariously in the balance.
The Batiquitos Bluffs project calls for 19 homes on a 10-acre site within the 51-acre parcel of land at the southwest corner of La Costa Avenue and El Camino Real. The commission’s decision granted permission for grading and initial street construction on the access road. According to Kerry Kusiak, a city senior planner, no plans for home construction have been submitted to the department for review.
The project will impact a relatively small area of the entire wetland – approximately .04 acres according to the staff report. Commissioner Paul Van Slyke agreed that in the scheme of possible developments for the zoning allowed under municipal code, the proposed plan was acceptable. “It could have been way worse,” he said. “It could have been a lot denser than what’s proposed.”
The applicant, Westbridge Capital, contends that no other alternative access exists to the site. However, letters to the commissioners from concerned La Costa Glen residents pointed out that access is available through the neighboring development.
Peter Wenner, a representative for the developer, said access through the adjacent La Costa Glen retirement community is not an option. He said his company has received below market offers for the site from Richard Aschenbrenner, La Costa Glen’s Continuing Life Communities chief executive officer. “They want to keep it (the land) for themselves and expand La Costa Glen,” he said.
Several residents told the commission that the environmental impact of the project would be detrimental to the fragile wetland ecosystem. Russ Whitman, a volunteer with the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, implored the commission to consider the project’s lasting effects. “We need to see the big picture,” he said. The La Costa Glen resident also told the commission that while the amount of land in question may be small, it is integral to the entire wetland area. “You take one piece out and it’s not the same,” he said.
As part of a state law, the developer is required to set aside open space in return for the wetland parcel in order to mitigate any impacts on habitat. The location of the set-aside land will be determined at a later date.
Opponents of the project indicated they might appeal the decision to City Council.