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Approval raises soil safety concerns

ENCINITAS — With the approval of a residential development, another chapter in the city’s agricultural history is drawing to a close.
The Planning Commission approved several permits, finally giving the green light to a residential development on Cardiff property used in an agricultural capacity for half a century. Plans to build a 12-home subdivision on 11.3-acres at the corner of Lake and Santa Fe drives are moving forward after the unanimous vote Dec. 16.
The Brown family owned and operated a nursery on Lake Drive for more than 60 years, starting with a vast geranium field that produced cuttings for wholesalers on the East Coast.
However, the flower growing business has become unprofitable for most of the North County growers that occupied large swaths of the Cardiff hillsides and other parts of the city.
Scott Brown, a third-generation grower, and his siblings came to the difficult realization several years ago. His family eventually sold the property to City Ventures, a Santa Ana-based company that submitted the latest plans to the city for approval.
Several ideas have been proposed over the years, including a 2006 application to change the zoning to allow up to 15 homes per acre, which would have permitted as many as 152 homes on the property at Lake and Santa Fe drives.
One of the lingering issues surrounding all of the plans for developing the site is the disposal of contaminated soil. Testing by the developer found the presence of two pesticides commonly used by nurseries until the early 1980s. Dieldrin and Toxapene are no longer allowable and have contaminated the soil on the property.
Developers must bury the contaminated soil at least eight feet deep under the foundations of the homes or in the front yards. According to city officials, contaminated soil is never buried in the back yards of homes. Planners told the commission that burying the soil rather than hauling it off-site is a safe and accepted practice that is common in the county.
“The Department of Environmental Health accepts this type of remediation. It’s a standard process,” Associate Planner Todd Mierau said referring to the county agency that approved the plans to bury the soil.
Donna Westbrook, an Encinitas resident, questioned the city’s disposal of contaminated soil on developments. She said the city does not allow contaminated soil to be buried under a public right-of-way where city employees might come into contact with it. However, she said that the policy allows contaminated soil to be buried under homes. “How can the city have two different standards?” she asked the commission.
Westbrook also cautioned that the presence of contaminated soil be disclosed on each covenant. “You’ll find that many developers don’t want to put that (contaminated soil) on there,” she said. City Planner Tom Curriden said that constructive notice is required when contaminated soil is buried on a lot.
Commissioner Tony Brandenburg questioned the safety of burying the contaminated soil. “It’s not going to bubble up from the ground?” he asked staff. The pesticides currently on the property do not dissolve easily in water but rather, they bond to soil particles Mierau said. Because the water table was located at 35 feet below the graded foundation, staff seemed confident that the contaminants would not come into contact with ground water or cause further contamination.
“The applicant will be required to provide a summary report to the county indicating how the work was done and then the county will review that to ensure that the work plan has been followed,” Mierau assured the commissioners. The city does not have the in-house expertise to carry out the necessary oversight of burying contaminated soil.
At least some residents were not convinced that the process was safe. Marie Dardarian lives near the proposed development site. She said she was concerned with the potential impact of burying contaminated soil under homes on the planned development. She said she wanted conformity in how the city requires property owners to deal with contaminated soil issues.
She told commissioners that her conversations with city officials about the procedures and standards for dealing with potentially hazardous soil have given her little solace. “Four or five wrongs don’t make a right,” she responded to staff comments that each case of soil contamination is different.