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Council approves parking lot — 18 months later

ENCINITAS — A proposal to expand an Encinitas shopping center’s parking lot received a divided endorsement from the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, about 18 months after the council first weighed in on an appeal of the project.

The council voted 3-2 to deny an appeal filed against the proposal, which would add 18 parking spaces to the 176-space lot at 285 North El Camino Real. Representatives of the property owner, North El Camino LLC, said the shopping center has a dearth of parking that results in frustrated customers leaving the center and its tenants.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Mark Muir voted in favor of the appellant but did not offer an explanation during the proceeding.

The council first heard an appeal of the project in June 2014, but voted unanimously to table the appeal, which the planning commission approved in March of that year.

The council hoped the property owner could devise a compromise that would satisfy the concerns of neighbors opposed to the expansion.

In a staff report, city staff said they believed the property owner over the past 18 months has modified the project to address the concerns of the neighbors in the New Villanitas community, namely that the plans would further reduce the trees that served as a natural screen between the parking lot and the homes.

Pierre Joubert, the neighbor who filed the appeal, had argued the shopping center’s owners were exaggerating the need for additional parking. Several neighbors spoke and presented photos taken during various times of the day showing numerous available parking spaces.

The crux of Joubert’s appeal, however, centered on a July 4, 2009 incident when the commercial center owners — without city permission — chopped down 69 eucalyptus trees that screened off the shopping center for their view. Joubert believed by approving the parking lot expansion, the property owners would remove more adult trees.

Over the past 18 months, the property owner held two community meetings, in which he reportedly sought to address some of the primary neighborhood concerns. The modified plan calls for the property owner to replace some of the removed trees with Brisbane Box and Australian Willows, which an arborist said would serve as an appropriate screen.

Joubert reiterated his opposition to the project Wednesday night, which he said was “flawed and that the neighbors did not want.”

Catherine Blakespear, who along with Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz voted against the appeal, said the property owners had met their legal requirements under the city code, so they had to approve the project.

“The issue before us was whether the shopping center had the legal right to add parking spaces,” Blakespear said. “It doesn’t matter whether I personally would prefer to leave a larger buffer of plants. If they met the design review guidelines, which they did, then their property rights under the code allow them to add 18 parking spots.

“I feel for the neighbors but think our responsibility is to uniformly apply the rules and not make decisions based on personal preferences for land use,” Blakespear said.