SOLANA BEACH — Rather than deny a request to install only 70 percent of the required story poles for the complete remodel of an apartment complex, as many residents wanted them to do, council members at the March 11 meeting opted to continue the hearing so the developer could hold a public workshop and refine the plans.
H.G. Fenton Company is planning to demolish and rebuild Solana Highlands, a 194-unit complex built in 1972 that is located on South Nardo and Stevens avenues.
The developer, who bought the 13.4-acre site in 1998, is proposing to replace the existing buildings with 260 one- and two-bedroom apartment homes — 32 of them affordable — with washers, dryers and storage spaces for all units, parking garages for all but about 10, updated interiors and Craftsman-style exteriors designed by Steve Dalton, who grew up on Nardo and was the architect for the renovated Fletcher Cove Community Center.
Plans also include more recreational and fitness features, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly landscaping and an increase in parking.
Construction would take place in three phases in approximately 36 to 40 months.
Projects exceeding 16 feet in height — which this one will — are subject to the city’s view process that includes installing story poles to provide a visual simulation of what the end product will look like.
When H.G. Fenton started that process in January there were concerns that some of the poles and related support structures, such as guy wires, would be installed in driveways, fires lanes and parking spaces.
One of those poles would depict the building with highest proposed height of 58 feet.
During an onsite visit the fire chief and fire marshal confirmed that many of the poles, if installed where proposed, would create a public safety hazard because they would make it difficult or impossible for responders to access the site.
In a letter to the city the applicant stated the primary reason for the request to waive the installation of 54 of the 182 required poles is related to safety and emergency access concerns.
“It is our intent to install most of the story poles … as we would like to accurately represent the proposed building envelopes,” John La Raia wrote. “We are requesting to not install those story poles that would potentially hinder an emergency vehicle’s ability to navigate the site safely.”
According to the staff report, it has also been noted some of the poles would create access issues for the 440 residents and result in a temporary loss of about 60 onsite parking spaces.
Given the circumstances staff recommended City Council grant the waiver request, but with conditions.
The applicant must create a 3-D digital model to show how the proposed buildings would look from the surrounding neighborhoods.
The company would also have to use temporary mobile cranes to simulate the location of the poles that would not be installed, a recommendation Councilman Mike Nichols saw as problematic because of the time that would be involved to set up, take down and move the cranes to the various locations.
There was also a requirement to host two story pole orientations on a Saturday after 70 percent of the poles were installed.
The city received a handful of letters and more than a dozen people spoke at the meeting asking council members to deny the request.
“We want to see all of the story poles so that as we walk, bike and drive we can see how the existing views are impacted,” George Boyd said. “There’s no other way to do it. Holding up pictures ain’t going to work. We have to see the real thing.”
“To get a complete story you need complete story poles,” David Checkley said.
“Good story poles make good neighbors,” Phil Weber said.
Jim Ratzer said approving the waiver would be unfair to residents potentially impacted by the project.
“I would ask you to schedule a meeting or maybe workshops where we could invite the affected neighbors, the city manager and the developer so we can work together to arrive at a story poling approach that is fair to everyone,” he said.
Council members and the developer supported that recommendation.
“Believe it or not we would prefer not to be here tonight asking this,” Mike Neal, president of H.G. Fenton, said. “We have looked at many alternatives to try to install all the story poles. There are some significant challenges.
“We’re happy to meet with anybody,” he added. “Maybe there is an idea out there that we haven’t thought of.”
Mayor Lesa Heebner said the plan should be reviewed to see if at least some of the 54 poles can be installed. Councilman Dave Zito agreed.
“This is a significant and potentially impactful project,” he said, noting that ultimately the city will likely have to waive installation of some poles. “Our goal needs to be to get as many of these story poles up as possible.”
The hearing will continue at the April 8 city council meeting. In the meantime, the developer will schedule a public workshop that will include representatives from the company that will install the poles.