The Coast News Group
The path leading to “Desert Rose,” where 16 homes are due to be built following Council’s approval of the project. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Council approves ‘Desert Rose’ development

ENCINITAS — Council granted the appeal of developers in a 3-0 vote Wednesday night, allowing the controversial, 16-home “Desert Rose” project to move forward after years of debate. 

Residents near the housing project believe it will fundamentally alter the rural, equestrian nature of Olivenhain.

Councilman Tony Kranz said he’s greatly enjoyed the character of Olivenhain since he was a kid. That made mulling over Desert Rose even tougher, he said. But ultimately, he made a motion to approve the project, because he felt he had the “sword of Damocles” hanging over him due to the state’s density-bonus law.

“In spite of my campaign promise to uphold community character and to do what’s right by your neighborhood, I unfortunately have the dubious honor of having to uphold state density-bonus law,” Kranz said.

Under state law, projects can build more units than normally allowed on proposed building sites in exchange for promising to build low-income housing. In the case of Desert Rose, the developers plan to construct one low-income housing unit as part of the 16-home project.

City staff said that denying Desert Rose would conflict with density-bonus law, opening the city up to lawsuits.

Mayor Teresa Barth said the state’s density-bonus law “seems unfair to the community.” But as a consolation, she said Desert Rose is at least the most considerate density-bonus housing project she’s come across. Namely, the developers weren’t required to provide off-street parking and other amenities, but they did, she said.

Later, Barth said the city should look at ways it can reduce the attractiveness of density-bonus law for developers.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer abstained from the Council vote. Shaffer said she didn’t think she had enough solid information to base her decision on.

“I’m not happy with the quality of the analysis that’s been done,” Shaffer said.

Councilman Mark Muir recused himself from the hearing. As the former fire chief, he reviewed the fire-protection component of the development.

After the vote, residents opposed to the development quickly shuffled out of Council Chambers, clearly disappointed.

In December, the city’s Planning Commission voted 3-2 to reject plans for the development on the grounds that it’s unsafe and would create environmental issues.

During the public comment’s section, residents urged council to affirm that ruling.

Greg Gorgas said Desert Rose poses safety concerns in the form of increased traffic. As such, he said the city should order an environmental impact report.

“A walled in, high-density community at the end of a cul-de-sac with very limited access is unprecedented in Olivenhain,” Gorgas said.

He added that the project would cut down trees in the area. And he said a 25-foot wetland buffer proposed by the developer should be moved back to alleviate the impact on the nearby habitat.

Representing the developer, attorney Marco Gonzalez said the city can’t request an environmental impact report, because the housing project won’t have a substantial impact on the environment. Further, he added that project will clean up the wetlands.

Resident Mark Brampson said the city’s staff analysis underestimates the risk of a fire in the area.

“The proposed subdivision is adjacent to an open space that contains fuel complexes capable of generating embers,” Brampson said.

He added that the staff’s analysis doesn’t fully take into account the effect of strong winds on a fire.

Scott Henry, the city’s fire chief, said that it’s difficult to anticipate fire behavior. Yet compared to denser, forested areas, he said that grasses in proximity to the development should burn quickly and hence would be unlikely to create tall walls of flames.

As part of the Council’s motion, the city will amend design elements of the plan, including the materials used to construct a planned fence around the development.



KP March 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Boo on the city council. So sad to see our rural community continue down the road to over-development.

Dana Plant March 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

This is so disappointing! I had high hopes
That the “new” City Council would be different!
I guess it doesn’t matter what “we the people”
feel is in the best interest of OUR community!
Ho hum status quo and business as usual…

Tree Hugger March 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

All of the trees in the right portion of the picture will be clear cut (more than 40). Trees on the left side of the picture will be in danger.

How ironic that our tree-loving council member Tony Kranz made the motion to pass this with no conditions or considerations for protecting the environment.

What more can be said about Marco Gonzalez, except that he is officially on the wrong side now. People have aready stopped recommending him to friends as an environmental attorney. He is a tool for developers now.

Concerned citizen March 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm

People from all over our community, not just Olivenhain neighbors, were watching this. Many are very disappointed that our “new” council chose to “trust staff” over the Planning Commission’s recommendation, and over all the expert testimony presented by public speakers.

We also feel it was inappropriate that, as disclosed by Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar and Mayor Teresa Barth, they both had ex parte private meetings with Marco Gonzalez. Because Council sits in a judicial capacity and this was a continued public hearing, it was completely incorrect and prejudicial for them to meet with the appellant’s counsel without noticing the Desert Rose community’s attorney, Everett Delano, so he too could be present at any such meeting. Encinitas City Attorney Glenn Sabine should have cautioned Council that it should not have private meetings with “parties” in the case outside of the context of the public hearing.

GPU in the ruts March 15, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Though I am not from Olivenhain, I’m truly sadden but what happened on Wednesday. It really feels that the new council is acting based on fear of legal pursuit. There is no better place than Olivenhain to analyze what does not fit in this community. It’s a rural area, this project should have been canned. Track houses in that area just don’t belong. Now we know why it’s so important to pass the right-to-vote initiative. We could have hoped to trust the new council based on their campaign promises, and look at what happened. When it comes to land-use planning, we just need to trust the community members, not a council that can swayed with treats of lawsuits.

Encinitas needs reform March 16, 2013 at 11:02 am

The City of Encinitas’ actions seem patently unfair. Not only should two members of Council, who ended up voting against the community of Desert Rose, Mayor Teresa Barth and Councilmember Kristin Gaspar, NOT have met privately with the appellant’s attorney, Marco Gonzalez, the public hearing, itself, appeared to be improperly conducted.

It was very one sided in that Staff is allowed an indefinite amount of time to essentially “appeal” the Planning Commission’s findings, which had before denied the development. Then Marco Gonzalez was allowed a 10 minute statement, and, after public comments, a 5 minute rebuttal. There was no “balance,” as the attorney for the Desert Rose community should have been allowed to make a 10 minute statement, in the beginning, after Marco G’s statement, rather than his being allowed to speak only during public comments, which were given much less weight, by our Council, who is acting in fear of litigation, doing what seems politically “expedient,” not what is equitable.

The City was acting in its judicial capacity. The executive branch of our city, which is staff, should be more impartial. They can have a recommendation, but they should not be allowed to dominate the discussion. One of the few checks and balances we have are our Commissions. The Planning Commission’s decision should have been represented, it’s findings defended by Everett Delano, the attorney speaking on behalf of the Desert Rose Community. Delano should have been allowed to make a 10 minute statement, to support the Planning Commission’s findings, and then a 5 minute rebuttal after Gonzalez’ (angry) rebuttal.

It was very disturbing to watch last Wednesday play out. Justice is supposed to be blind, not politically prejudiced and personally biased. Council needs to reform the way it conducts public hearings, particularly when city staff recommends against our Planning Commission’s well-considered decision.

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