SOLANA BEACH — A culturally rich and increasingly snug pocket of North County, La Colonia de Eden Gardens has struggled under the pressures of coastal development for years, if not decades.
At a June 12 City Council meeting, the city began a process to help mitigate such pressures, specifically through a specific plan or overlay effort outlined by its work plan.
An overlay imposes certain development standards or criteria to an area on top of its base zoning, in order to take into account the “unique features” of a neighborhood, according to Community Development Director Joseph Lim.
At the meeting, residents voiced their concerns and posed ideas for keeping the neighborhood safe, as well as maintaining La Colonia’s multi-generational history and charm.
Community members were largely concerned with how development has caused parking and driving in the area to become hazardous. Others worried how cars filling up the narrow roads might impede or block emergency vehicles.
Lim said an overlay might help the city address some of these challenges.
Lisa Montes, a lifelong La Colonia resident, said she supports the overlay, and hopes the city will increase parking requirements for incoming developers — a suggestion echoed by other speakers.
“La Colonia de Eden Gardens is losing its historical character quickly due to land developers wanting to profit from the area, by stacking multi-million dollar homes in small spaces with inadequate parking,” Montes said. “Our community is busting at the seams and we are trying to stop it from exploding.”
Neighbors feel that many of the new projects coming to the area are out of tune with the character of the community.
“Many small homes are being replaced by multi-family developments, condos, apartments duplexes, call them what you will,” said fourth-generation resident Rich Villaseñor. “But with those come many, many, many more cars that our infrastructure was not built for.”
Villaseñor suggested the city consider overlay standards that will make the area more walkable, such as requiring developers to provide adequate setbacks and sidewalks. He said developers should be required to maintain landscaping in keeping with the community’s “garden theme.”
“If you’re going to add new, add some value and character to the community,” he said.
Despite its long history as a relatively quiet community with mostly single-family homes, the La Colonia neighborhood is seeing a mounting number of large, more modern projects.
Some neighbors attribute this to the area’s zoning allowances, which are generally more dense than other residential areas of the city.
The bulk of the neighborhood allows for five to seven dwelling units per acre (“medium residential”), with other areas allowing for eight to 12 dwelling units per acre (“medium-high residential”) and 13 to 20 dwelling units per acre (“high residential”).
Lim said much of the area’s infill development is due to current market conditions, with the area offering property values that are “a little bit less” than the rest of the city.
He estimated that the area has seen about a dozen new projects in the last five years — at least two of which are mixed use.
In addition to development standards, staff are also looking at ways to improve road circulation — Lim said this might mean exploring possibilities such as restricted parking to one side of the street, or creating one-ways in some areas. He said the city will be conducting public outreach to gauge community interests.
City staff will be conducting community outreach over the summer, presenting their findings to council in mid-autumn and drafting an ordinance based on council direction by the end of 2019.
Top photo: La Colonia is a cultural gem of the city, recognized for its Mexican-American history and quiet, lush charm. Photo by Lexy Brodt