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Planning Commission considering language change recommendations on density bonus

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Planning Commission on Thursday will consider recommending the Council change the language in its zoning code that would close one of the biggest loopholes developers have used for so-called “density bonus” projects.

The City Council in July voted to have the commission consider a change to the code that would prohibit developers from using rain and stormwater-catching basins, land earmarked for utilities, and wetlands when calculating the developable acreage in a project area.

Developers have included these areas — which can’t be built on — to calculate the density of their projects based on a larger area than what is actually being built on, thus creating more dense developments.

City staff has presented the planning commission with two alternatives for the new language, one that reflects the Council’s direction word for word, and another, which staff said, it hopes better captures the spirit of the Council’s direction.

The differences deal with the definition of detention and drainage basins, which staff said does not include other facilities that the Council likely also wanted precluded from density calculations, including stormwater treatment devices known as bioswales.

The staff alternative would also change the definition of developable, or “net acreage,” in other parts of the city’s code and planning documents to reflect the changes.

Once the planning commission decides on an option, it will be forwarded to the City Council for a vote.

Residents have long criticized the city for allowing developers to build the oversized, super-dense residential developments, which they say clashes with community character, creates traffic problems and safety concerns for existing neighborhoods.

State law allows for developers to build extra homes on land if one or more of the homes are earmarked for low-income residents. For years, residents have criticized the city for liberally interpreting state density bonus law, which they said has led to the proliferation of the developments citywide.

The Council on July 16 voted in favor of more strict interpretations of the law, and to now require developers to:

* Round down the number of units proposed on a site if the number of allowable units is a fraction

* Build affordable units within the project to at least 75 percent of the size of their market-rate counterparts, or 1,500-square-feet, whichever is larger.

* Provide evidence to demonstrate the need — financial, physical or otherwise — for a waiver for development requirements.