A “Save Desert Rose” sign near where a 16-house development could be built. Residents have opposed the Desert Rose project because they say it will increase traffic and hurt community character, among other concerns. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Council delays action on ‘Desert Rose’ development

ENCINITAS — Council refrained from weighing in on an appeal Wednesday night made by the developer of a housing plan called “Desert Rose.” 

Those against the plan, mainly the neighborhood near the development, say it threatens rural, horse-friendly Olivenhain. But those representing the project argue the character of the planned homes would be no different than many dwellings already in the area. Moreover, they claim it’s within their rights to put in a 16-home development.

After more than four hours of comments from city staff, lawyers and the public, councilmembers still had legal and environmental questions about the controversial development, so they voted to continue the public hearing March 13.

“I think we need staff to come back with more information,” Mayor Teresa Barth said as the clock neared 11 p.m.

Several months ago, the city’s Planning Commission voted 3-2 to reject plans for the development on the grounds that it’s unsafe and would create too many environmental issues. But the commission’s ruling wasn’t the final word, which is why Council heard the appeal.

Those opposed to the development don’t like that the developers’ plans include a state “high-density bonus” that lets them build 16 homes on the land, instead of no more than 12 units that would be allowed under city standards.

Representing the developer, Attorney Marco Gonzalez argued that regardless of any misgivings about the high-density bonus, state law trumps that of the city. Should the city deny the development, it would open itself to lawsuits, Gonzalez maintained.

“We have to accommodate the density law that the legislature imposes,” Gonzalez said.

City staff’s report also sided with the density law. They recommended that Council grant the appeal, despite some residents saying the city should challenge an unfair law.

Residents voiced additional concerns at the meetings.

They contend that the development will lead to greater traffic on nearby streets, particularly stretches of Rancho Santa Fe Road that are already choked up.

Among their safety concerns: The development doesn’t call for a second “escape road” in the event of an emergency like a fire. As such, they say residents would overwhelm the streets when scrambling to evacuate.

Community character was also an issue raised at the meeting.

Resident Eric Graupner said he moved to Olivenhain because his kids “can walk along a horse trail flanked on either side by mature Eucalyptus trees.” However, many of trees will be cut down if the development is approved, he said.

Karen Holbrook said the development flies in the face of the community’s equestrian roots.

“This proposed project seeks to blithely ignore the intent and purpose of the founding of Encinitas as a city,” Holbrook said, adding that the project would hurt horse trails that many residents enjoy.

Council will get more in-depth information from staff on March 13 about the development’s impact on traffic. Councilmembers also requested more information about areas where they might be legally vulnerable if they deny the development.

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


Bill Butler January 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Expert opinions from traffic safety professionals, fire behavior experts, biologists and hydrologist as well as input from local residents served to support the community’s position that the project not only threatens the welfare of the adjacent wetland, it poses a serious fire-safety threat to both its future residents and the neighboring community. It should be noted that the City is not currently meeting its own goals for response to emergencies in the area. Adding more homes to the neighborhood will only exacerbate this.

Every single tree on the property be cut down. This, plus the increased water run-off created by additional hardscape, seriously compromises the environment and the streets and properties downstream. The builder is asking for a wetland buffer zone that is half that imposed on other builders in the area. The developer has reported that the project will generate 182 additional vehicle trips per day onto Rancho Santa Fe. A traffic study done by SDR shows a significant impact to intersections that are already rated E or F (worst) by the City. The City has declined to conduct a traffic survey and continues to ignore traffic conditions on Rancho Santa Fe Road.

I urge the City Council to uphold the very prudent disapproval of the Tentative Map and Negative Declaration for this unsafe development and not give in to the bluster and threats of litigaton made by the developer’s attorney.

Bill Butler
for Save Desert Rose

Pants on Fire January 28, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Jared, good article, but there is a major mistake that you need to correct.

This line of the article is not factual and was taken from assertions made in Marco Gonzalez’s appeal–not City documents which define this project:

“Those opposed to the development don’t like that the developers’ plans include a state “high-density bonus” that lets them build 16 homes on the land, instead of no more than 12 units that would be allowed under city standards.”

The Updated General Plan pg. B-97, APN #2640102700 states that the Unit Capacity for this lot is 7. In an email to Maggie Houlihan dated 1/20/11, Project Manager Roy Sapau states,

“Midrange Density for thesubject property would be:

1.5 du/ac (zone RR-2) x 5.93 acres (NET) = 8.895= 8 LOTS(Rounded downper Encinitas Municipal Code)”

Since the GPU states they can have 7, and the planner in charge figured it at 8, and they are asking for 16 on site and will pay an in lieu fee for the 17th unit, this does not represent 4 more units, but a 120% increase over current zoning!

Jared Whitlock January 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Hello, thank you for your comment. I sent an email to city staff inquiring about your comment. If I don’t hear back soon I’ll follow up with a phone call. I’m happy to issue a correction if my sentence was misleading or incorrect in any way.

Thank you again,


Jared Whitlock January 31, 2013 at 11:16 am

Hi again, I followed up with Roy from the city. He said the original line in my article is correct. The 7-unit allowance is only part of draft language and hasn’t been adopted.

Thanks again for your comment,


Interested in Olivenhain February 2, 2013 at 7:43 am

Marco Gonzalez has stated that they are asking for only 4 units more than what it is zoned for. This is not true.

A 2011 email written by Roy Sapau to a council member identifies that the project is zoned for 8 units using midrange density calculations and applying the appropriate wetland setbacks and deducutions for slope that are outlined in the Municipal Code.

Applicants are asking for 16 units on site and will pay for a 17th with an in lieu fee. They are asking for 1 low income unit on the site but will be displacing the low income family who has lived there for 20 years who care for the horses and are valued and well-liked members of the Olivenhain community.

Now Roy Sapau is denying his previous calculations for a midrange density of 8 and claims that 16 onsite units is the correct number.

This project is a walled fire trap with a single egress road that is so narrow, the road engineer that SDR hired pointed out that if a fire truck were to enter the developement as it is presented now and a burning car were parked in one of the few, internal parking spaces, the firetruck could be stuck and the firefighters could be placed in jeopardy since there is no way for a firetruck to back up or turn around in this case.

As for the residents of this walled-complex, their planned fire escape is a trail that they would have to access on foot!

FACTS February 7, 2013 at 7:22 am

1. According to Project Manager Roy Sapau in a written email to a Council member, the the property is zoned for a maximum of 8 units–not 16 because of the slope and proximity to wetlands. With the application of the General Plan wetland setback standards, their setbacks should be 50-100 feet.

2. Enviromental Attorney Marco Gonzalez threatened the Council if they did not give developers ‘an average of 25′ setbacks’ instead of the 50-100′ wetland setbacks required of the properties next door. Gonzalez and environmental planner Scott Vurbeff said that the developers would not clean up the creek unless they were given smaller setbacks–even though there are federal grants and agencies that would clean up the creek with volunteers.

3. During the time that they have owned the property, they have been charged with violations and still have not sought to have the creek cleaned up for free by a conservancy or other group.

4. They have failed to demonstrate ANY benefit to the community. They have demonstrated that they are prepared to make it more dangerous for future residents and the families already living in the area. They don’t deserve any consideration for this dangerous project.

Comments are closed.