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After seeing pictures like this one, taken from the backyard of a home on Juanita Street, council members deemed a mixed-use project still too large for the neighborhood. They asked the applicants for a second time to consider scaling the project back. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
After seeing pictures like this one, taken from the backyard of a home on Juanita Street, council members deemed a mixed-use project still too large for the neighborhood. They asked the applicants for a second time to consider scaling the project back. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Council rejects Eden Gardens mixed-use complex

SOLANA BEACH — A second attempt for approval of mixed-use complex on a rundown vacant lot at 636 Valley Ave. was denied without prejudice at the Sept. 11 meeting, allowing the applicants to once again make changes and resubmit plans without having to wait a year. 

At the July 10 meeting, Sea Breeze Properties proposed building four structures that would replace an abandoned, boarded-up single-family house and overgrown dead vegetation on the 10,874-square-foot lot that, according to some nearby property owners, attracts homeless people.

One building would include commercial space for an office or retail business on the ground floor and a two-bedroom unit on the second story. The other buildings would be three-story, three-bedroom detached townhomes, each with a first-floor enclosed garage and two levels of living area.

Originally the buildings varied in height, from a little more than 30 feet to slightly less than 35 feet. The maximum proposed square footage was 7,530, with the structures ranging from 1,833 to 2,000. The site could be developed with up to 13,049 square feet.

Although the project was below the allowable size by more than 5,500 square feet, council members had concerns about its size and sent the developers back to the drawing board in July.

The modified plans were presented Sept. 11. A tower feature on the western side of the mixed-use building was reduced from 30 feet 6 inches to 20 feet. The building also has a single-story entry area with a patio and trellis.

A 14-foot arcade wall proposed on that building was lowered 18 inches and moved west toward the front property line by 2 feet.

The residential buildings were moved 1 foot south to create a larger area along the northern property line between unit one and the property to the north.

One townhome was made 3 feet lower. The other two were reduced by 2 feet. Bike parking was added.

Although many residents said they appreciated the changes, they said the project is still too big and not compatible with the surrounding area.

Eight of the 16 speakers, many of them multigenerational residents of the area, asked council members to reject the proposal.

“We’re trying to preserve La Colonia,” resident Sylvia Espeytia said. “This building … is huge. They are trying to make La Colonia a better place to live. This is not going to make it a better place to live.

“We’re getting squeezed out of our own home town with all these buildings and businesses going up,” she said. “That’s not fair. That’s not right. We still have to live there. It’s our hometown and they’re taking it away from us.”

“The applicants’ proposal was very impressive,” Juanita Street resident Gloria Aaronson said. “But it’s just so big. And quite frankly it just sounded so cold and sterile to me.”

Proponents included Valley Avenue property owners and two young couples who said they wanted to raise their families in Solana Beach but high housing prices precluded them from buying. This project, they said, would give them an affordable option.

The developers said they haven’t decided whether the units will be leased or sold. If they are for sale, they estimated the prices would be in the high $500,000s or low $600,000s.

“I believe that putting something like that there would be a big plus to our community,” said Gabriel Granados, who owns six properties in Eden Gardens, including Don Chuy restaurant. “I like the way it looked. It has design. … It is something pleasant to look at.”

“Every community, especially one as old as Eden Gardens, is going to undergo change,” resident Erin McKinley said. “And change is not always palatable, especially to those who have lived there a long time. Nostalgia is … completely valid, but when you become used to the way things are, sometimes it’s hard to see things change.

“There are old buildings and properties in the community that have gone beyond their useful life,” McKinley said. “They become a blight on the landscape. Change is part of the cycle of life and buildings like that that have gone beyond their useful life are prime opportunities for revitalization and for the benefit of community.”

Mayor Mike Nichols agreed, but said change shouldn’t happen overnight. “This project has the ability, as designed, to kind of tilt the scale and change the entire character of that neighborhood,” he said.

“It’s a tough position to be in when you’re the first one to kind of do that,” he added. “You’re in that spot and I don’t envy you at all because you’re really trying to do a project here that meets the needs of cleaning up a bad lot and providing residential and … commercial uses and jobs.”

But some of the issues with the bulk and scale are still lingering, Nichols said. “I hope you pull it off.”

“I do think that some project is better than what’s there now but I’m not convinced that this is the project that is ultimately the best for the entire community,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said.

She suggested the applicants consider removing a story, increasing the setbacks and mimicking older buildings rather than new.

A denial appeared imminent after council members viewed photos submitted by adjacent property owners that showed, based on story poles, the views from their backyards would be nothing but a large building.

With a denial without prejudice the developers will have to pay additional fees, but they will not have to wait 12 months to resubmit project designs and will be at the front of the line if and when they choose to do so.