Solana Highlands public hearing to continue

Solana Highlands public hearing to continue
Over 100 residents packed Solana Beach’s city hall at a public hearing addressing the future of the Solana Highlands revitalization project. Over 30 residents spoke during public comment, with many lauding the development for its affordable housing units, or deriding it for its size and density. Photo by Lexy Brodt

SOLANA BEACH — An unfinished hearing on the outcome of the Solana Highlands revitalization project drew over 100 residents and 31 public comments on Dec. 5, with about half speaking for, and half speaking against, the project.

The hearing will continue on Dec. 17, to address many of the unresolved questions and issues left pending on the topic. Council will either approve or reject the project, which requires certification of its final environmental impact report, approval of the development review permit, a structure development permit and a vesting tentative parcel map.

Solana Highlands is a 13.4-acre apartment complex off of Stevens and Nardo avenues, currently comprised of 198 residential units. The complex’s longtime owner, H.G. Fenton, is proposing a revitalized complex with 260 units, of which 32 will be reserved for low-income senior residents, 62 or older.

Dana Flach, a resident of Turfwood Lane in Solana Beach, presented her view claim to the City Council. Flach’s claim was rejected at a View Assessment Commission meeting in mid-November – three VAC claimants chose to present their claims to the City Council. Photo by Lexy Brodt

The new complex would require at least two years of construction. The project is estimated to cost $76 million.

At the meeting, John La Raia, H.G. Fenton’s vice president of government and community strategy, said the new site would potentially house 4 percent of the city’s population.

A revitalized Solana Highlands has been in the works since 2010, but the city’s View Assessment Commission rejected the developer’s initial plan in 2015. At the time, 15 residents submitted view claims addressing the project’s imposition on their views.

The commission approved the project’s revised iteration in mid-November, putting it on track for a final evaluation by the City Council in early December. Three prior claimants — Michael Nunn, John Wilson and Dana Flach — chose to take their view claims to the council.

Nunn, whose view is comprised of the surrounding hills and a section of the San Dieguito Lagoon, said his view will be “destroyed” by the new complex, which will increase the density of the site from 16 buildings to 24.

The city decided to extend the hearing to a later date after five hours of presentations, public comment and deliberation.

Speakers voiced their thoughts on parking, traffic, landscaping, construction impacts, an open easement currently on the property, the density of the project and its affordable housing units.

Several attendees lauded the developers for bringing more affordable housing to Solana Beach, which will help the city meet its 150 unit requirement for affordable housing.

The complex previously held 39 units restricted for “very-low-income” residents, a covenant through the county which expired in 2010. Most of the units were subsequently converted to market rate, though 13 remain “affordable.” Thirty-two are now proposed.

Thirty-year resident Staci Green, who currently rents her home in Solana Beach, supports the project on the grounds that it would accommodate those looking for “workforce housing” in the city.

“I know people have view issues, plant issues, but I have the issue of wanting to live in my beloved community,” she said, referring to herself and others who have faced ever-increasing rental rates.

A 2018 site plan highlights the project’s proposed 24 buildings. The complex would be split into three different neighborhoods – Lifestyle, Valley View, and Bungalow. Courtesy photo from http://revitalizingsh.com/

With affordable units comes a density bonus — whereas previously the site only allowed for 207 units, a 27.5 percent density bonus caps the site at 264 units. It also allows the developer to waive certain standards, such as a 30-foot building height maximum. Rather, the maximum building height would be 47 feet, according to the staff report. The applicant has also requested a fee waiver of $500,000.

Speakers in favor supported off-site improvements proposed by the developer, particularly traffic-calming measures such as curb extensions, a continental crosswalk and curb “chokers” along Nardo Avenue. Others said the property, which was built in the 1970s, is in need of renovation.

“It’s going to have to be redone at some point,” resident Colin McKenny said.

Many nearby residents living on Bay Meadows Way or Turfwood Lane conveyed a common sentiment: “too much, too big,” Several were prior view claimants.

Some worried the project would set a “precedent of overbuilding” for future developments.

Tom Golich, a representative of the neighboring Saint James Church and Academy, was concerned about how noise and air pollution resulting from two years or more of construction would impact parishioners and children.

Resident Dusty Sorenson urged the developers to not monetize parking garages or spaces, which otherwise might encourage residents to park for free on neighboring streets. The project proposes 525 onsite parking spaces — at least one per unit as well as 57 guest parking spaces.

Joe Cuviello, president of the Turfwood homeowners association, reiterated the concerns of many regarding the size and quantity of the buildings, their imposition on a view corridor, as well as the potential loss of privacy incurred by neighboring residents.

“These are things we’re all going to have to be willing to accept for affordable housing,” Cuviello said. “You’re making a decision for us to give up some of our quality of life, for other people to enjoy a quality of life here.”

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