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The Encinitas City Council has approved an economic study of a 60-unit senior housing project and a 30-45 unit residential subdivision at the L-7 plot on Quail Gardens Drive. File photo/The Coast News
The Encinitas City Council has approved an economic study of a 60-unit senior housing project and a 30-45 unit residential subdivision at the L-7 plot on Quail Gardens Drive. File photo/The Coast News
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Encinitas continues to study low-income housing at L-7 site

ENCINITAS — The fate of a 7.65-acre city-owned parcel on Quail Gardens Drive, known as L-7, has long been the subject of interest and division among residents, resulting in a years-long housing stalemate.

On Valentine’s Day, however, local elected officials broke the gridlock in an effort to keep the city on the right side of state housing laws.

After pleas from the public for and against utilizing the L-7 property for high-density housing, the Encinitas City Council voted 4-1 to move forward with an economic study exploring a 30-45 unit residential subdivision with accessory dwelling units or a 60-plus unit low-income senior apartment complex at 634 Quail Gardens Drive during its Feb. 14 meeting.

The city will retain Kosmont Companies to conduct a financial feasibility study on both scenarios and hire outreach specialists and professional design consultants to develop a public engagement plan to ensure broad community outreach for the project.

“What I love about a 100% affordable housing option like L7 (Quail Gardens) is that it puts us in the driver’s seat. We get to do 100% affordable housing,” said Councilmember Joy Lyndes. “We don’t have to agree with anybody else about adding additional market-rate housing just to make it happen. This is magic. I’m just very passionate about this.”

In 2018, the council removed the controversial L-7 parcel, located between Channel Islands Drive and Alexandra Lane,  from the city’s previous Housing Element due to residents’ concerns over increased density being incompatible with the surrounding residences and exacerbating traffic and parking issues. If approved at the time, L-7 could have seen as many as 190 units developed in an area surrounded by single-family homes on acre plots.

For several years, the site, on which current zoning only allows seven residential units, entered a state of development limbo. 

In March 2023, a council study session on “no net loss” was held to ensure development opportunities on proposed L-7 (Quail Gardens) remain available throughout the current planning period to meet the city’s state-mandated affordable housing obligations under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA.

During that meeting, the council requested staff explore options to develop possible scenarios for a 100% affordable housing project at L-7, including a 30- to 45-unit residential subdivision and a 60-unit senior housing development. The L-7 site was declared surplus on Nov. 8, 2023, making the land available for prospective developments to meet the city’s housing requirements.

The proposed senior housing project would join four residential developments – Fox Point Farms (250 units), Sunshine Gardens Apartments (140 units), Moonlight Apartments (202 units) and Quail Meadows (485 apartments) – in various stages of completion along Quail Gardens Drive.

If approved and finalized, all of these projects will bring more than 1,100 residential units along a 2.5-mile stretch of roadway, including the largest apartment complex in the city’s history.

Councilmember Bruce Ehlers was the lone vote against utilizing the L-7 site.

“I’ve said it is the wrong project. It’s in the wrong place,” Ehlers said. “We’ve already burdened Quail Gardens Drive too heavily with development, and I completely agree with the speakers who pointed out we need to figure out what happens after we occupy each one of these 1,100 units around there before we make any decisions about adding more and increasing the density, so I will continue to oppose this.”

According to the staff report, the residential subdivision, consisting of single-family homes, ADUs and possibly JADUs on 15 individual lots, would be the most compatible with the existing neighborhood and community character. Most development would be on the eastern side, but some might be needed on the western side to meet the 80% housing requirement.

The staff report noted some considerations and hurdles in building 60 affordable senior apartments on L-7. The proposed development has a higher density than nearby properties, and the site lacks nearby amenities like medical facilities and public transportation. Plus, the city would be required to rezone the parcel to accommodate the higher intensity of housing, triggering a public vote under Proposition A that would cost the city more time and money and create uncertainty related to the outcome of the vote.

While loosely billed as 100% affordable, city staff suggested a mix of income levels for the project, namely 60% for moderate-income households, 20% for low-income, and 20% for very low-income. This scenario aims to provide housing options for families, couples, and individuals, including those with moderate incomes, like police officers, firefighters, teachers, and retail workers.

However, the council stressed the importance of prioritizing low- to very low-income residents over moderate-income earners.

“Moderate units are the nut that we have to crack in order to be able to pay for this project; it’s going to be a little bit harder to crack,” said Mayor Tony Kranz. “I agree that we should skip the moderate if we can, but it’s going to make the hurdle a heck of a lot higher.”

Residents voiced differing opinions on the proposal during the meeting. Some expressed concerns about the potential repercussions of high-density housing along Quail Gardens Drive, such as insufficient parking and traffic congestion. 

“Quail Gardens Road is a skinny road with a skinny bike lane,” said longtime Encintias resident Ted Elliot. “You’re looking at putting a thousand-plus units along this skinny little road that was never meant to have this level of development or density. I strongly disagree with this, and I hope you shoot it down. Why are you guys even considering this?”

Encinitas resident Devon DeMint urged the council to leave L-7 as an open space and consider adding more low-income housing to other nearby developments, such as Fox Point Farms or Quail Meadows.

“Our family takes Quail Gardens each day to get to school, and our 2.7-mile drive takes 20 minutes as it is,” Demint wrote. “Further, I can’t stress enough how much we would appreciate and utilize more free, open space in Encinitas for our children and family. The pollution is getting worse, our beaches are shrinking, we have limited access to local recreational spaces, and our quality of life is being affected by overdevelopment and traffic. Please consider a park over more development.”

Deputy Mayor Allison Blackwell, who voted to further the financial feasibility study, acknowledged residents’ traffic concerns but said there was plenty of time for the city to examine potential impacts on the area.

“I do think that we have to address the traffic issues,” Blackwell said. “There is no rush to start constructing. We’re so far from that. We don’t even have financing, we don’t even have a design. So I think there is time to evaluate the impacts of the developments on traffic and look at what more we can do to help with that.”

For other residents, more affordable housing options would benefit the community.

Encinitas resident Colin Nackerman said he supports building affordable housing on L-7 to help create more housing options for younger, working adults. 

“As someone in their 30s who’s connected to many other young folks and families in this community, I can testify that we are desperate for more affordable housing. For any housing,” Nackerman wrote. “People deserve to live where they work and live in the community they grew up in. We know that is what makes a strong and cohesive community that can thrive for decades to come. Thank you.

Seventy-year-old Encinitas resident Lois Sunrich said that due to sky-high rent, she considered moving to another state to find an economical way to retire. 

Sunrich said the city should be a place where people can live where they work.

“Let’s finally create an affordable housing community to keep our families intact, so outrageously high rents don’t force our young people out,” Sunrich said. “This time, let’s help ensure our seniors can afford to stay and keep our hometown roots deep and strong.”

Other residents echoed Sunrich’s sentiments.

“I think we need affordable housing, especially for young people,” said resident Patty Stottlemeyer. “There are people working two jobs and living in their cars, so we have to have some kind of help for people.”

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