The Coast News Group
Council members unanimously approved an affordable housing complex that will be built on a city-owned parking lot in the 500 block of South Sierra Avenue. Courtesy rendering
Council members unanimously approved an affordable housing complex that will be built on a city-owned parking lot in the 500 block of South Sierra Avenue. Courtesy rendering

Affordable housing complex OK’d

SOLANA BEACH — A mixed-use affordable housing development in the works for almost three years was approved unanimously by City Council at the April 23 meeting, despite opposition from nearby residents, the threat of a lawsuit and allegations of legal manipulation and violating city codes.

Many of the dozens of people who provided written and oral comments said they support affordable housing because “it’s the right thing to do.” But they opposed this particular project on a city-owned parking lot in the 500 block of South Sierra Avenue.

“There’s only one place this beautiful project fits and that’s on a projector screen,” said Martin Schmidt, who has lived across the street from the proposed development for 20 years. “It’s painfully clear to everyone that lives in the neighborhood that it just doesn’t fit.

“When you take this project off the screen and put it on this small parking lot, what you have is a project that is simply bursting at the seams … on a street that is bursting at the seams now,” he said.

Hitzke Development Corporation has been working with the city to build a 10-unit, mixed-use complex that would satisfy a decades-old legal requirement.

Although all cities must provide affordable housing, Solana Beach has been subject to lawsuits since the 1990s after City Council took action that closed a mobile home park.

Affordable housing advocates threatened litigation, claiming low-income units had been eliminated. Rather than go to trial, the city entered into what become known as the Perl settlement which, among other things, mandated the replacement of 13 affordable units.

Since then three have been provided.

The Hitzke proposal is a three-story complex on a 14,721-square-foot lot with three approximately 500-square-foot one-bedroom units, three two-bedroom townhomes that are 918 to 1,032 square feet, three three-bedroom units ranging from 1,002 to 1,232 square feet and a 1,383-square-foot four bedroom.

They will be available to tenants with annual incomes between $33,000 and $44,000. Monthly rents will range from $740 to $1,145.

The existing parking lot has 31 public spaces, all of which would be replaced. Hitzke will also provide the required 18 spaces for the residential component and another four for the commercial space, which is slated for office use.

It was originally planned to be a small, high-end market but it was changed and made smaller in response to concerns about increased traffic.

There will be 22 public spaces and one for the office on a street-level lot. A basement-level lot will include all 18 residential spots, as well as nine for public parking and three for the office.

The estimated total development cost is $6 million, including about $1.1 million for predevelopment items such as architectural, planning and engineering studies, an analysis of water, sewer and other utilities, application fees and legal costs.

The city provided a $648,000 loan for the predevelopment costs. It will loan Hitzke a total of $2 million, although that amount could be increased by $50,000 depending on the applicant’s ability to secure other financing.

The loan is for 55 years at 3 percent interest. Construction funds will be given after all other construction financing is used.

The building is slated to be a sustainable development.

Residents fear the project will result in increased traffic, parking and noise issues and a loss of property values.

In an email to the city the Condominium Organization of South Sierra Avenue, which represents nine homeowners associations, stated its main concern is the project “does not fit the character of the avenue and we are concerned about the safety of children playing on a property with such limited space.”

Residents claimed city officials didn’t notice the meeting correctly. They also questioned the process for a view assessment review. The two applications submitted were from homeowners associations, which were deemed ineligible because they are not property owners.

They also claimed affordable housing isn’t integrated throughout the city.

City officials denied all allegations. City Manager David Ott listed several affordable units on at least six other streets.

“As the general counsel of this municipal corporation I take great issue with any allegations of illegality,” City Attorney Johanna Canlas said.

She and Ott said they went “above and beyond” city protocol for noticing, including hand delivering copies of the staff report to homeowners associations.

“This isn’t a fun place to be,” Ginger Hitzke said after all public comments were made. “I like to be liked. I like my job. I like what I do. I’m really, really proud of it.

“I think it’s going to be good. I have a very good track record,” she said. “This is my livelihood and this is my life and I believe that life is short and the world is small and you need to do good things.”

According to the staff report the city believes the project is in the best interests of Solana Beach as it will preserve the 31 public parking spaces and provide required affordable to very-low income housing.

“We really, really try to do what’s right,” Mayor Tom Campbell said. “And we try to do what’s best for the city of Solana Beach. And one thing that I have learned over all these years, you are never going to please everybody.”

Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said council’s job is to “make findings and apply laws.”

“It’s not about opinion,” she said. “It’s not about a win. It’s not about what we kind of want to do and we listen to some people and not to others. We do take into consideration your input. That’s why we have a much-improved project here.”

The complex was redesigned twice following input from two workshops.

“The first time I saw it I hated it,” Heebner said. “Now it’s a beautiful building.

“We’ve taken great pains to make sure that your issues and concerns were addressed,” she added. “Don’t forget, we live here, too. … We are you. … We hear you. We care. This is a good project. It’s been thought through and adjusted based on your input and your comments.”

Councilman Mike Nichols had some design concerns with the driveway access and the tightness of the semi-underground parking structure. The city engineer said it will be difficult for motorists to turn around if they drive down there and find no empty spaces.

Hitzke said she would look into potential solutions, including one to add sensors that indicate if parking is available.

Hitzke said she is “elated” about council’s approval. “I’m really grateful the city is trusting me,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to making the people of Solana Beach proud of this development and this decision.”

It will be at least a year before the groundbreaking as approval is still needed from the California Coastal Commission.

Hitzke must also apply to the county for federal funds. Construction is expected to take about a year. Hitzke said she will continue to meet with residents to address construction concerns and timelines.

“I will have follow up with the neighbors because this is an ongoing relationship,” she said.