SOLANA BEACH — In response to sometimes hostile comments made during an August workshop, the developer of a proposed affordable housing complex presented revised plans at an Oct. 18 meeting, during which residents were given an opportunity to question city and development team staff members.
Ginger Hitzke has been working with the city for about a year to possibly build a 10-unit, mixed-use complex on a city-owned, 31-space parking lot on South Sierra Avenue.
Completion of the project would satisfy a decades-old requirement to replace affordable housing units lost in the early 1990s when city action shut down a mobile home park. Since then Solana Beach has been involved in several costly lawsuits.
Hitzke’s development, called The Pearl, would include three one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging from 510 to 1,075 square feet, one 1,200-square-foot four-bedroom flat and about 1,300 square feet of commercial space that cannot be eliminated because of zoning.
Originally planned to feature an upscale market, the commercial area is now slated for offices after residents complained about a possible increase in traffic, parking, crime and litter.
The existing 31 parking spaces used mostly by beachgoers and as a drop-off area for the city’s junior lifeguard program will be retained above ground. Another 23 spaces for tenants and commercial customers will be added in a semi-enclosed underground structure.
The city held a public hearing in January and the first workshop in June.
During a follow-up workshop Aug. 15, most of the approximately 80 attendees were upset because they couldn’t ask questions.
A sheriff’s deputy had to step in twice to regain decorum. Many had concerns about possible increases in traffic and crime, as well as the size of the project and its setback from the street.
At the third workshop, attended by about 30 people, Hitzke presented two new renderings with different roof designs and setbacks.
“It doesn’t address the issues of scale,” said Marty Schmidt, an outspoken project opponent who lives across the street from the proposed development. “It’s just aesthetic changes.”
Schmidt also doubted Hitzke’s claim that the setback in the original design is less than three feet different from the condominium complex across the street.
Hitzke said the existing story poles, which many used to argue the setback issue, are “a little bit misleading.” She said they are meant to “show the absolute worst case” in terms of height and massing.
She also said they are not installed inside the parking lot, where they should be, to avoid eliminating parking spaces. She said the painted lines provide a more accurate sense of where the buildings will be located.
According to those lines, the building would be about 11 feet from the curb. According to Hitzke’s plans, the setback on all three designs is 15 feet 6 inches. In the redesign, it stays the same for the commercial space, but the two-story apartment complex is set back an additional 12 feet 6 inches.
Across the street at Seascape Sur, the setback from the curb to the fence averages 14 feet. It is approximately 16 feet at the entry gate and 10 feet at the entry kiosk.
The development falls under affordable housing’s very-low-income category, meaning qualifying tenants must make between $17,000 and $47,500 annually, depending on household size. Monthly rents in the approximately $6 million complex will range between about $770 and $1,170.
While some equated low income with increased crime, Capt. Sherri Sarro from the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department said she didn’t see the project as one that would invite that behavior. In fact, she said, some of her staff would qualify to live at The Pearl.
Hitzke added that applicants must pass criminal and civil background checks and the underground parking will be only partly enclosed, well-lit and include security cameras.
According to a traffic engineer, the project isn’t expected to generate a huge amount of traffic, perhaps an additional 100 to 200 trips per day
Some of the dozen speakers at the October meeting addressed allegations made in a handout distributed by Schmidt at the August workshop.
In response, Hitzke and city staff said a vote is not required before affordable housing can be built. They also said it is not true that a city must only plan for affordable housing, not build it.
Hitzke, a private developer, said the city isn’t planning to build the units, she is. Interim City Manager David Ott said not only are cities obligated to ensure affordable housing is available, they stand to lose funding if requirements aren’t met.
Although it’s true the development exceeds some zoning requirements, that is allowed for affordable housing projects, Ott said.
Not everyone at the meeting opposed The Pearl. Frederico and Heather Martinez said they have been forced to downsize and are interested in becoming tenants. “I like the location,” Heather Martinez said. “I think it has great potential.
“It’s the perfect size —- not too huge, and I don’t think it’s too small either,” she said.
Vicki Cypherd said the project seemed much less dense than the Seascape Sur development across the street. “It is not a precedent that is going to make the neighborhood suddenly deteriorate,” she said.
“I’m not worried about crime,” she added. “It’s 10 units…I really think everybody’s overreacting to this. I think it’s a real benefit to the community. I think it’s beautiful.” After considering all public input, council will hold a public hearing to decide whether it will go forward with the project.
“We have no opinion about this until the public hearing,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said. That meeting has not yet been set.