Above: The city has been subject to multiple lawsuits, by both the building industry and affordable housing advocates, because of its lack of a housing element. Courtesy photo
ENCINITAS — A site that Encinitas officials have tabbed for future affordable housing is being blocked by the California Coastal Commission, which has the ultimate say on the passage of the city’s housing plan.
The Coastal Commission is scheduled to decide the fate of the city’s so-called “housing element update” on June 13.
But the state staff is recommending the housing element update be amended to remove a property in north Leucadia from the inventory of proposed sites, arguing that its inclusion goes against the commission’s charge of providing hotel and motel space for coastal visitors.
The 2.97-acre site is known as the “Jackel Property,” the namesake of Fenway Capital Advisors’ Managing Partner Larry Jackel. Fenway Capital is developing the 124-room Encinitas Beach Hotel on property just north of the site.
According to the city’s proposal, the site would yield 33 housing units, among the lower unit-yielding sites on the city’s map, which would yield just under 1,450 units as currently proposed.
But the Coastal Commission said that upzoning the property, which is currently zoned for hotel and motel use, to high-density residential conflicts with the state Coastal Act, which gives zoning for “visitor-serving facilities” priority over residential and commercial zoning.
“The up-zoning of this site … could preclude the development of overnight accommodations on a site that is located along the historic Coast Highway at the northern entrance of the City … which has been specifically identified as lacking critical visitor-serving accommodations,” the staff report states. “While the provision of affordable housing with the Coastal Zone is a significant challenge that this (plan) seeks to ameliorate, the up-zoning of this site in particular conflicts with … the Coastal Act, which requires that visitor-serving facilities have priority over residential and commercial facilities.”
The Coastal Commission staff recommends approving the plan if the city agrees to removing the property from the site.
“The city is evaluating the recommendation from Coastal Commission staff,” City Development Services Director Brenda Wisneski said. “Since the Jackel site proposed only 33 units, removal of the site would not jeopardize the City’s ability to maintain its housing goal. Therefore, there is no need to add additional sites.”
At this stage, the Coastal Commission’s approval is paramount to the city because the state Department of Housing and Community Development is withholding its stamp of approval until the Coastal Commission signs off.
The state housing department’s certification is necessary to comply with a court order that required the city to have an adopted housing element in April, but the courts have given the city a grace period to obtain the necessary approvals.
The Coast News has reached out to Fenway Capital and Encinitas to see if they agree with the Coastal Commission’s recommendation and will update the story when it receives comment.
State Housing Element law requires cities to provide enough housing to meet the needs of all its residents, from very-low income earners to above-moderate ones. Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County that lacks a state-certified plan and was under a court order to enact one by April 11.
The city has been subject to multiple lawsuits, by both the building industry and affordable housing advocates, because of its lack of a housing element. Voters rejected the city’s most recent attempts at passing a housing plan in 2016 and 2018, which prompted a judge to give the city 120 days to adopt a plan.
The council unanimously adopted the second reading of its plan at its March 27 meeting.
It includes several controversial recommendations from state housing department officials, including:
• Raising the maximum building heights from 33 feet for a flat roof and 37 feet for a pitched roof to 35 feet and 39 feet, respectively.
• Changing where building heights are measured from.
• The inclusion of parking lots, driveways and drive aisles in calculating the project’s density — which could result in additional “bonus” housing.
• Eliminating sections from the city code aimed at requiring developers who propose super-dense projects to conform to the surrounding neighborhood and provide public benefits beyond the statutory requirements.
• The elimination of any subjective language from the update. “HCD directed that all standards must be objective in nature, containing no subjectivity,” according to the staff report.
Several community stalwarts oppose the plan, which they said is a giveaway to developers and select landowners and also that the plan invalidates a city law that gives the public the right to vote on it and future housing elements.
The Coastal Commission meets for three days in San Diego from June 12 to June 14 at the Island Palms Hotel & Marina, 2051 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego, CA 92106. The housing element is on the agenda for June 13.