Above: A rendering of “The Ivy” by Touchstone Communities, a proposed five-story apartment in downtown Escondido. Courtesy rendering/Touchstone Communities
ESCONDIDO — A mid-rise apartment proposal that would bring hundreds of housing units to Escondido’s historic downtown core has taken its first regulatory step.
The Ivy, a five-story and 127-unit complex owned by Touchstone Communities, got a unanimous 7-0 approval vote from the Escondido Planning Commission at its May 28 meeting and will advance to the City Council.
“We are thankful to receive the Escondido Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval of our project, The Ivy,” said Addison Garza, the executive vice president of the San Diego-based Touchstone Communities. “The Ivy will add a much needed urban residential component and help cultivate the vibrant mixed-community that the local businesses and officials envision. The project meets the goals of the city’s Downtown Specific Plan and promotes infill development, which is critical to solving the current housing crisis.”
The Planning Commission approval was the first of the “density transfer” era, a land use law passed by the Escondido City Council on May 1 aiming to bring more high-density housing to the city’s downtown in close proximity to public transit.
Mayor Paul McNamara has stated a goal of moving away from “sprawl” style housing in the city’s outskirts.
Touchstone has requested a California legally sanctioned “density bonus” of 35%, or 27 units, for providing affordable housing within the complex, while also obtaining a 24-unit increase under the city’s new Density Transfer Program.
Density Transfer is a policy lever broadly concerning to Carol Rea, an appointee of the Escondido Historical Preservation Council, as it pertains to historic preservation. But she said at the meeting that The Ivy has dulled some of those concerns as applied to that particular project.
“I’m relieved that this project is in an appropriate place and located near other apartments and away from the historic downtown,” Rea said.
The Ivy is just one of a half a dozen housing proposals under consideration in Escondido, including one of two owned by Touchstone Communities, with another in the works called Aspire. In total, close to 1,000 infill units of the sort could exist in downtown Escondido.
Rea said she remains concerned about the future of historic downtown Escondido, with all of those projects in the works and a beneficial regulatory landscape now in place.
“I’m frustrated that it opens the door and we lose some historical buildings to developers. I feel like we’ve put them in the driver’s seat,” Rea said. “We may lose historic buildings and people may say ‘Let’s just tear it down and put up something new.’ But our downtown is probably the most significant concentration of historic buildings in the city and you start mixing in buildings that are towering over our charming downtown and you’re going to lose that feel of historic integrity.”
Planning Commission members also raised the issue of parking, and a lack of spots downtown, as a chief concern for The Ivy. Touchstone will build 157 parking garage spaces and have an additional 27 guest parking spots.
The project will have a mix of studio apartments, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units and range in size from 550 square feet to 995 square feet. The city of Escondido believes, if built, The Ivy could be a boon for the downtown area.
“The proposed project is consistent with the General Plan and the Downtown Specific Plan as it encourages higher density urban residential growth,” reads a report written in advance of the May 28 Planning Commission meeting. “New development, higher densities, residential opportunities and pedestrian places and courtyards are encouraged to provide an optimal setting for urban living in close proximity to entertainment, retail and professional offices.”
Garza said that Touchstone will ideally begin construction in late-2019 or early-2020, while construction could take about 20 months for The Ivy.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.