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City Council to come up with definition of community character for roadside design

ENCINITAS — What is community character? 

The City Council will try and define the oft-used phrase in the future to give the city’s engineering department flexibility when requiring property owners to install roadside improvements.

Council members agreed to take on the subject during a strategic planning meeting tackling transportation on Wednesday.

“Defining community character is going to be a true challenge, because people see their community through their own lens,” Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said.

Glenn Pruim, director of Engineering and Public Works, said community character popped up when residents objected to proposed design standards on Crest Drive last year.

After receiving a proposal to build a home on Crest Drive, the engineering department consulted city code, which calls for developments to have “complete streets” that are accessible for all residents, ability levels and modes of transportation.

However, community character isn’t included in the concept of complete streets.

City staff told the owners of the property they would need to put in a curb, parking, a sidewalk and widen the street.

Residents argued the requirements would threaten old trees and the unique feel of Crest Drive, noted for its lack of sidewalks.

“There’s definitely a potential tension between complete streets, design standards and community character,” Pruim said.

Mayor Teresa Barth said community character would depend on the area of the city and how much traffic, for example, goes through it.

Pruim said city staff members would come back to the City Council with options for incorporating community character into city code.

Part of the discussion will include a list of special city streets that don’t have to give up as much land for public improvement mandates that new homes have to meet.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said the city should also consider an in-lieu fee for homes that aren’t required to build sidewalks and other improvements due to community character.

The fee could be applied to improving other roads in Encinitas.

“If you live on Crest (Drive), you can accommodate pedestrians, bicycles and cars without building concrete sidewalks and putting in a separated bike path … But those people also drive, ride and walk on Santa Fe (Drive), for instance, where we’re in desperate need of safety for pedestrians, bicycles and cars,” Shaffer said.