ENCINITAS — The city of Encinitas has come down hard on a local car dealership that constructed an overflow inventory lot on a vacant lot in New Encinitas over the Thanksgiving weekend without city permission.
The city issued a stop-work order and seven citations this week to Encinitas BMW, which put up the parking lot over Thanksgiving weekend, prompting residents along Quail Gardens Drive, who questioned whether a car lot could legally be constructed on the land, to complain to local officials.
City staff quickly validated neighbors concerns: the dealership constructed the lot without any city permits.
“Doing so was in violation of a lot of regulations,” acting planning director Manjeet Ranu wrote in an email to city officials. “What BMW of Encinitas did is unacceptable. Staff’s approach will be very strong to compel compliance and remediation.”
As of Thursday morning, Encinitas BMW had removed the cars from the property.
The seven citations included violations for failure to comply with the City Engineer’s best management practices, violating the state’s wastewater discharge permit, using the property contrary to its land-use designation for office space and grading without a permit, prior approval from the city and on dates prohibited by the city (the city doesn’t allow grading on holidays and weekends).
The property owner will be required, among other things, to obtain a grading permit, but as a result of the offenses the permit fee will be doubled, Ranu said.
Ranu said the current property owner was shocked to discover the dealership’s activity, which he said was done without his permission. According to an email obtained by The Coast News, the property owner plans on filing his own separate civil action against the dealership for trespassing and damage.
Residents along Quail Gardens Drive noticed activity on the vacant lot on Saturday, when they said gravel was delivered to the site and heavy tree trimming and grading took place, which caught the community off guard. By Sunday, a recreational vehicle and dozens of BMWs lined the lot.
“I did not see any planning commission activity on this property,” local resident Steve Gerken wrote in an email to another resident involved with alerting the city to the activity, Glen Johnson. “It is zoned medical/professional. So the vehicle storage lot with no grading permit, all done over the holiday period when no city staff are available smells like another illegal construction project in Encinitas.”
Concerned residents said they worried that without proper permits — which require developers to take measures to control dust and dirt during earth-moving activities — dirt and fill could flow from the site down Encinitas Boulevard into Cottonwood Creek or potentially Moonlight Beach during a rain event.
Gerkin and Johnson forwarded their complaints to Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, who on Monday responded to neighbors confirming their suspicions.
“Bottom line: it is totally illegal and not an authorized use of that parcel without a major use permit, which they do not have and have not even requested,” Shaffer said. “The city is taking action today against both the property owner and the BMW dealership and the cars should be removed from the lot soon.”
The property, which includes a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, was previously owned by Sea Breeze Developments LLC until September, when it was sold for $5 million. New Encinitas residents have monitored the site closely as city officials have considered it a potential site for affordable housing as part of the proposed housing element update.
Residents thanked city officials for their swift and unequivocal response.
“In this instance it looks like City Staff are the “good guys” alerted by a few neighbors and a Council Member,” Johnson wrote. “We occasionally need to catch Staff doing something right.”
BMW Encinitas representatives have not returned calls for comment.
This story has been updated since its original posting.