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City to fight Hymettus lawsuit

ENCINITAS — Encinitas will defend itself against a lawsuit launched by residents opposed to a settlement the city approved with the Building Industry Association that paved the way for the recent approval of a density bonus project in Leucadia.

The City Council emerged from a closed-session meeting July 13 and announced it would defend itself against the suit, which was filed in June by the Encinitas Resident Alliance.

City officials declined comment, citing closed-session confidentiality.

The lawsuit challenges the 2015 settlement between the city and BIA, which the citizens group says unconstitutionally tied the city’s hands as it pertains to six density bonus projects, including Hymettus estates, a nine-unit project the council approved amid criticism from neighbors.

The city and BIA reached a settlement in 2015 stemming from a lawsuit that challenged the city’s actions in July 2014, when the council approved several policies aimed at closing several loopholes that have been popular among developers of so-called “density bonus” projects.

State law allows for developers to build extra, or “bonus” homes on land if one or more of the homes are earmarked for low-income residents.

Developers have built a proportionally large amount of density bonus projects in Encinitas, which has caused a number of residents to complain that the city was too lax with its approval of projects, which they said altered the character of the community with oversized and super-dense units.

The city in the settlement agreed to not apply the settlement to six projects that were already in the planning pipeline, including Hymettus Estates.

The City Council voted 4-1 in May to deny an appeal filed by neighbors contesting the Planning Commission’s approval of the project, located on a lush lot off of Fulvia Street just south of Leucadia Boulevard.

Project opponents did not focus on the density bonus aspect of the project, but took aim at its environmental impact report, which they said contained several significant flaws in measuring the size of the lots as well as in the report that addressed how storm water would be dealt with in the flood prone area.

The report also discounted the historical significance of a farm house on the site, they said.

These mistakes, the neighbors argued, called into question the city’s environmental findings and warranted the city deny the project and require the report be redone.

But in the lawsuit, the residents argue that BIA settlement illegally handcuffed the city and left it with little choice but to approve the project.