ENCINITAS — A group of students at a San Diego architecture school gave their best shot at addressing an issue that has perplexed Encinitas stakeholders for years — the housing crisis.
The students at Woodbury University, for their Studio 5A architecture final project, designed housing in downtown Encinitas around the city’s transit center.
They presented their designs Nov. 30 at the Barrio Logan campus in front of a panel of jurists that included State Assemblywoman and former Encinitas Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, Encinitas Councilman Tony Kranz, noted architects Eric Nasland and Teddy Cruz and several contract planning staff members and local architects.
The results: dense, sleek units that catered to millennials, the elderly and the workforce, lane diets along Vulcan Avenue, the expansion of Cottonwood Creek Park and other interesting takes on the downtown corridor by the dozen students.
One might ask why a group of students near downtown San Diego would take an interest in Encinitas’ housing struggles. They need look no further than the studio’s professor, Encinitas architect Brett Farrow.
Farrow, who has designed several local projects, including the First National Bank building under construction downtown, said that watching the city grapple with gaining compliance with state housing laws inspired the semester-long assignment.
The students had to design their housing around the Proposition A restrictions on building height and parking restrictions that make building dense housing downtown difficult.
They also had to incorporate the yet-to-be-started downtown Encinitas leg of the Coastal Rail Trail in the project, which is slated to run along Vulcan Avenue.
For the project’s sake, each student could assume that the city would build a 600-unit parking underground parking garage beneath the city hall and create half of a parking space for each unit, which gave the students more freedom to design.
The student’s projects were all denser than you see in Encinitas, where some residents have campaigned against building denser than 30 units per acre. The average project consisted of about 60 units per acre.
Students and jurists alike said that they believed density would be the key to solving the housing crisis, and that increased density doesn’t mean decreased quality or community degradation.
“In order to make affordable housing work, you have to reach a certain density to make them affordable,” said Ryan McComb, one of the students who presented that Friday afternoon. “It was definitely a huge challenge.”
Each student was given five minutes to present his project to the panel, and the jurists were given 10 minutes to critique and provide feedback for the students.
Boerner Horvath, who served on the Encinitas Planning Commission before she was elected to the City Council, said that she thought the presentations provided a glimpse at the potential innovation that could be used to revitalize the city’s transit station.
“I think it’s really important that we think of new and innovative solutions, and one of the things that makes it so hard in Encinitas is that until we see something, it is hard for us to react to it,” Boerner Horvath said. “I think this whole session gives an opportunity to see how different people and how different creative ideas could envision a space that is underutilized.”
While Boerner Horvath said that some of the assumptions — the downtown parking garage and the half parking space per unit — were “a little bit of fantasy,” one of the things she appreciated was that students designed the projects with Proposition A’s 30-foot height restriction in mind.
“One of the great assumptions of this (project) is that they are still maintaining the height limit,” Boerner Horvath said. “There’s a little bit of fantasy in there half a parking space per unit, but I think if we don’t get creative and thinking about how we are doing this, I don’t think we move the needle.”
Farrow said the project should also give elected officials and community members in Encinitas a glimpse into how one of the groups most impacted by the housing crisis — young people — envision their housing options.