By Steven Gerken, Chris Calkins and Dick Stern
Plans for the Quail Meadows Apartments are fatally flawed and must be sent back to the developer for revision.
That’s the finding the Encinitas Planning Commission should make on Feb. 15, when the hearing resumes for the proposed, high-density project on Quail Gardens Drive just north of Encinitas Boulevard.
The proposal from Quail Meadows Properties, LLC — also known as Baldwin & Sons — calls for 485 units in two, six- to seven-story structures containing nearly 1 million square feet of floor space. The buildings would be two of the largest in all of Encinitas.
After a four-hour hearing on Feb. 1 dominated, in large part, by the impassioned testimony of opponents, commissioners voted to continue their deliberations and take action on Feb. 15.
Between now and then, commissioners have a lot to think about.
We urge them to prevent the developer’s end-runs around state law, to defend the City of Encinitas Design Standards and Guidelines, and to reject nine requests for waivers that sweeten a marketing package but compromise the environment, public health, and safety — all under the guise of providing 72 apartments for low-income residents.
Most importantly, Commissioners should reject language that strips residents of their right to appeal environmental and public safety issues.
Baldwin buried the loss of appeal rights in a seemingly innocuous request to waive Encinitas Municipal Code requirements for lot line adjustments. Commissioners should not waive our rights.
We need as much land use authority as we can get. State laws designed to address the housing crisis limit the discretionary review once controlled by cities. Projects that set aside 20 percent of units for low-income households are considered “by right” projects and must be approved.
But Baldwin has fiddled with the math. The 485-unit project includes only 72 low-income units. That translates as 14 percent. Instead of calculating 20 percent of total units, the developer calculated 20 percent of the proposed, market-rate units.
That’s a foul, especially when the city’s decision to rezone this property was intended to maximize inclusionary housing.
More questionable math comes from the developer’s calculation of “base density,” which bundles the entire 12-acre site into a 30-unit-to-the-acre equation when nearly 40 percent of the site is off-limits to development because of sensitive habitat.
Case law shows the density calculation should be based upon net acreage, not gross acreage.
Baldwin’s application also overlooks key environmental and safety concerns. While the Coastal Commission has identified sensitive habitat, the applicant’s most recent biological survey is eight years old.
We need reliable information on how the project — and planned repairs to site drainage — could threaten fragile wetlands and impact stormwater management in the flood-prone valley.
How will light pollution impact neighbors and wildlife? What about noise impacts from a rooftop party deck and seven-story parking structures? The developer must answer these questions with defensible, third-party studies.
The latest traffic study for Quail Meadows Apartments was completed during the pandemic lockdown, when traffic was much lighter. We need an up-to-date understanding of how the developer will mitigate traffic impacts on our city streets.
While state law overrides local authority for large housing projects, cities are entitled to adopt “objective design standards” — measurable and verifiable criteria to apply to such projects.
Plans for Quail Meadows Apartments run roughshod over those guidelines, which state that large, flat roofs should be avoided and that buildings should appear as an aggregation of smaller blocks. Baldwin instead proposes two monoliths with no setbacks on upper stories and roofs that are long and flat enough to land an airplane.
At the hearing, we showed commissioners seven violations of our city’s objective design standards.
We also noted that while trampling upon local guidelines, the developer has requested nine waivers to allow for taller buildings closer to existing homes, relax safety requirements, and reduce open space.
As proposed, Quail Meadows Apartments is unacceptable. We urge the Planning Commission to defend the Municipal Code, follow legal precedent, and provide Encinitas residents with an exhaustive review of all legal and environmental issues.