ENCINITAS — After more than 10 years of planning and a lawsuit that made it to the doorstep of the State Supreme Court, an Olivenhain 16-unit subdivision received the final approval needed to move forward.
The Encinitas Planning Commission voted 4-0 April 18 to approve the design review for the homes and the landscaping plan for the Desert Rose development.
“It takes 10 years to get 16 homes built in Encinitas, for good or ill,” said Marco Gonzalez, an attorney representing the developer, Woodbridge Pacific Group. “Being here today to see this as the final discretionary hearing, it is a good thing, despite the fact that it took us so long to get here.”
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.
Encinitas residents have complained the projects alter the character of the community with oversized and super-dense units and cause other environmental woes, such as increased traffic, fire hazards and damage to wetlands in the case of Desert Rose.
Neighbors launched formal opposition to the project by way of a citizens group called Save Desert Rose in 2012, after it began to make its way through the approval process.
After the city approved Desert Rose and the companion environmental report in 2013, Save Desert Rose filed a lawsuit against the city and developer to compel an environmental report. In 2014, Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes ruled in the citizens group’s favor.
The developer then appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision in late 2015.
Save Desert Rose then filed for the state Supreme Court to review the case, but the state’s high court declined review in late January 2016.
At the April 18 hearing, one of Save Desert Rose’s most active members, Julie Graboi, urged the planning commission to deny the design review, arguing that the project’s density didn’t fit the surrounding communities, and that the developer’s community character analysis included denser communities that were outside of the 500-foot radius that was to be used for the purpose of the analysis.
Graboi and former Mayor Sheila Cameron also said that the project shouldn’t be approved until the developer received approval from the City of Carlsbad to connect a trail that would otherwise dead end in the project.
The five feet of land needed to connect the Encinitas and Carlsbad trails is in the Carlsbad city limits.
Graboi called the trail connection “the only public benefit that was promised with this project.”
Gonzalez countered, and the commission agreed, that the courts had already ruled on the project density and therefore they had no authority to alter it, and that the approval could not be contingent on the trail issue.
“Your job here tonight is to assess compliance with the guidelines and consistency with the general plan,” Gonzalez said. “The density is what the density is, that has been litigated, that is done.”
Gonzalez and the city both agreed to continue to negotiate with Carlsbad to connect the trails.
The commission briefly discussed questions about the backyard landscaping and an invasive plant that was included in the design review, but quickly voted in favor of the application.
Planning Commissioner Bruce Ehlers was absent.