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A drawing of a four-story, 54-unit mixed-use residential development on the corner of South Coast Highway and Morse Street in South Oceanside.
A drawing of a four-story, 54-unit mixed-use residential development on the corner of South Coast Highway and Morse Street in South Oceanside. Photo courtesy of the City of Oceanside
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Controversial four-story condo building coming to South Oceanside

OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside City Council recently approved a controversial four-story, 54-unit residential development with 3,244 square feet of ground-floor commercial space at the corner of South Coast Highway and Morse Street despite concerns over increased parking and safety issues.

The 1602 South Coast Hwy project proposed by Hallmark Development Corporation was first heard by the Planning Commission in September and continued into October, where it received a final 5-1 vote of approval.

The project was appealed later that month by Karie Lasko, a concerned nearby resident who along with many other of her neighbors fear the project will worsen parking and make the already unsafe roadways even more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Lasko and others wanted the project to remove its fourth floor and decrease the number of units while also adding more parking for the project’s future residents so as not to impede on the existing residents’ parking.

The project is South Oceanside’s first four-story development.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask for fewer units so the new residents of the Hallmark development are not as frustrated as the current residents are,” Lasko said.

The project proposes 1 parking space per each of its 34 two-bedroom units, and 30 spaces for its 20 three-bedroom units. There are also two guest spaces and 11 commercial parking spaces which can be used by residents during after-business hours, making for a total of 77 parking spaces.

“Adding 54 units with one-and-a-half parking spaces is unrealistic,” Lasko said.

Lasko and other residents opposed to the project are also concerned about its setback waiver. The appellant noted that the city’s Local Coastal Program requires buildings with two frontage lots to have a 15-foot setback, however, the project asked for a zero-foot setback instead.

Shari Mackin said this means that cars entering the project’s parking garage will exit out onto the sidewalk and create a hazard for passing pedestrians.

Hallmark's 307 West South Oceanside development
Hallmark Communities has completed a number of projects across North County, including 307 West (pictured above) in Oceanside. Photo courtesy of Hallmark Communities

Mackin noted this is what happened to Logan Lipton, a 12-year-old boy who was hit and killed while riding his bike to school in 2015 by a truck driver pulling out of a driveway from the Oceanside RV Park near Oceanside Boulevard and South Coast Highway.

Mackin argued the project’s high density and lack of parking located close to South Oceanside Elementary would go against the goal to improve pedestrian safety in the area after what happened to Lipton.

However, according to Senior Planner Scott Nightingale, the project meets all city and state development standards and even exceeds them in certain cases without creating any adverse impacts on public health and safety.

Entrance to the development’s parking garage would be on South Freeman Street. Nightingale said the project’s site distance requirements for ingress and egress are at 155 feet, which exceeds the city’s 150-foot requirement.

Staff also reviewed the appellants’ concerns regarding parking, noting that all requirements are met under the state’s density bonus law.

Because the project proposes more than 10% of its units (five units) to be dedicated for very low-income housing, which qualifies under the state’s density bonus law to allow the project to add an additional 14 units than what typically would be allowed. Projects that fall under the density bonus law are difficult to appeal or deny unless quantifiable evidence proving they cause adverse public health impacts can be found.

Mayor Esther Sanchez believed there was enough of such evidence and motioned to grant the appeal, which ultimately failed by a 2-3 vote. Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim was the only other council member to support Sanchez’s motion, and both Sanchez and Keim voted against the project’s approval.

City Attorney John Mullen said had Council approved the appeal, the city would have been put at substantial risk of litigation from the state.

“The state has made it extremely difficult to deny density bonus projects that comply with the objective requirements of the zoning and general plan,” Mullen said. “I think it’s undisputed that this project complies with those objective requirements, so really the issue is can you find a specific, adverse impact. If you move forward, it will likely be litigated.”

The project is considered in-fill development, which the city has pledged to advance in future developments to meet its regional housing requirements.

“To reduce its height would reduce density, which is totally contradicting our general plan and the state’s current legislation,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and Councilmembers Kori Jensen and Peter Weiss were the majority of Council who approved the project. Still, Rodriguez and Weiss both reiterated their support for a potential ballot initiative along with Keim to bring more local control back to local municipalities to prevent issues with projects like this.

Though Weiss said understands the need for the state’s density bonus law in certain circumstances, he disagrees with its application on this project given the location.

“I don’t think this is the right place for it, but I think our hands are tied,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a huge parking problem.”

Weiss asked staff to explore ways that future projects in South Oceanside can be prevented from building four stories without conflicting with state law.