Solana Highlands project approved by view panel

Solana Highlands project approved by view panel
Story poles erected in the summer of 2018 show the updated plans to the Solana Highlands revitalization project. Photo by Lexy Brodt

SOLANA BEACH — Over three years after the Solana Highlands revitalization project was initially rejected by the city’s View Assessment Commission, the project has been approved by the commission and is on its way to a final decision with the City Council.

Commissioners approved the project unanimously at the Nov. 20 meeting, but with “slight hesitation,” several looking to the council to weigh considerations beyond the commission’s scope.

“I’d like to see this — after 3.5 years — get to the City Council, and let them make the final decision,” Commissioner Gary Garber said.

H.G. Fenton, the site’s developer, plans to raze the existing complex off of South Nardo Avenue and build a new residential community divided into three neighborhoods. The 13.4-acre site would be home to 260 units — 62 more than what currently exists onsite — including 32 units for low-income seniors.

The view assessment process was halted last month, when resident Dana Flach said she was not properly informed of the process to resubmit claims, and thought her 2015 claim would still be valid. The project drew 15 view claims in 2015 — three of which were withdrawn. The city received three claimants in 2018; however, two were withdrawn.

“If we knew we had to refile, there would be 15 claims,” Flach said.

In response to the confusion, staff elected to hear any additional claimants at the View Assessment Commission’s Nov. 20 meeting. Four new claimants addressed the commission in November, after John Wilson’s claim was heard in October.

The commission is required to approve projects based on five “findings,” which judge the project based on various elements including cumulative view impairment, its compatibility with immediate neighborhood character, and the developer’s efforts to resolve view impairment issues.

At the Oct. 16 commission meeting, Wilson’s claim was met with mixed feedback, as commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the project based on the individual claim.

Wilson, who called the meeting “déjà vu” from the commission meeting three years prior, found the view imposition of a specific bungalow to be “unacceptable.”

“What we’re really talking about at the end of the day is a foot and a half, 18 inches,” he said.

H.G. Fenton lowered the height of two buildings, lowered several pads, shifted buildings and removed a bungalow from the plan in order to open up Wilson’s view corridor — which looks out onto the San Dieguito Lagoon and the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but more immediately reveals a large green space at the northern edge of the H.G. Fenton property.

Wilson lamented the potential loss of the space, calling it a “personal disappointment.”

The same green space was debated at the recent November meeting, as view claimant Phil Weber lives in a house on Nardito Lane in close proximity to Wilson’s home. The houses share a similar view plane onto the green space. Weber said he enjoys the extant park-like setting, and is most concerned about the density of the structures proposed.

“They’re massive buildings,” Weber said, arguing that the structures do not fit into “the neighborhood of bungalows” that comprises much of the small city.

Other claimants were dismayed with the developer’s communication process. Mike Nunn, who co-owns the home on Nardito Lane, said “there is no back and forth in this iteration of the process.”

David Gatzke, H.G. Fenton’s senior director of entitlement and development, spoke at the meeting to address the changes made by the developer since 2015 in direct response to view impairment claims. In addition to the changes made in response to Wilson’s claim, several prospective buildings near the property line were lowered — one as much as 17.5 feet — and setbacks were increased.

Gatzke said that 154,000 cubic yards of dirt will be removed from the site in order to lower the grade, and address and minimize view impairment.

Commissioner Paul Bishop said he hopes the council will consider the role that landscaping plays in the claimants’ concerns.

“So much of the view … is a view of the property as it stands today, with all its mature landscaping,” he said.

“I as a VAC member don’t have that guarantee … that the landscaping that’s going to be replacing what’s existing there and comprises these people’s views will be replaced to their satisfaction.”

The project will be weighed in front of the City Council at a special meeting on Dec. 5.

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