ENCINITAS — A new 72-unit apartment complex has received approval from the Encinitas City Council following changes made by the developer in response to local residents’ and neighbors’ concerns and despite the city’s Planning Commission’s vote to deny the project earlier this summer.
In June, the Planning Commission decided in a 3-1 vote to reject the project as it was presented. During the commission’s review of the project, residents expressed their concerns with public safety and traffic as well as their aesthetic criticisms of the design.
The applicant, Austin Wermers of Wermers Companies, appealed the decision and subsequently filed new plans with the City Council.
The Planning Commission itself did not review the new plans before the item was presented to the city council.
In comments to the City Council, Wermers made several commitments to Encinitas and its residents.
“I listened to the community and I was called to action to make changes on my building,” Wermers said.
The site of the project is 1967 N. Vulcan Avenue in the northernmost part of Leucadia near La Costa Avenue. The intersection of Vulcan and La Costa is a major concern to residents who oppose the development.
Wermers said the updated project plans now include changes to Vulcan Avenue that are meant to make the area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“When we do this it also promotes vehicle safety,” Wermers said.
Wermers also made a commitment to pay his company’s fair share in whatever changes the city decides to make at the Vulcan and La Costa intersection.
“Whatever you guys decide, we want to pay our fair share,” Wermers added.
There was more support for the newly redesigned project, some pointing to the need for low-income housing in the area and the project will boast 12 units designated as low-income.
“We need more roofs over our heads. This housing project is the perfect one to bookend Vulcan Avenue and Leucadia,” resident Kevin Daniels said. “I can’t express this enough, this project is a perfect fit.”
However, some were still unconvinced the planned site is suitable for the project.
“1967 Vulcan is currently surrounded by incompetent and inadequate infrastructure,” said resident Dianna Nunez. “How was this ever considered or designated for an increase in higher density?”
The applicant previously had a traffic study completed and it was determined the area was sufficient for the added density but some at the June planning commission meeting questioned the validity of the study since it was done during state and county stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 when traffic was lower.
The City Council itself did not find any issues with the new proposal.
“It’s clear that there is no violation of any of the applicable design review guidelines and we have staff saying it’s consistent with traffic policies based on the analysis they did,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the project despite it being vastly different from the one the planning commission had previously reviewed and rejected.
According to the city, because the revisions to the project took place after the appeal had been filed, there is nothing in place to automatically send the project back to the Planning Commission.
One of the possible actions recommended by city staff was returning the matter to the planning commission to review the new design, but the council opted not to go that route.