ESCONDIDO – The Escondido City Council voted on Wednesday, Jan. 27 to move forward with the Palomar Heights project, which will build 510 residential units and up to 10,000 square feet of commercial/office space on the site of the former Palomar Hospital downtown campus.
The project was approved on a 3-2 vote, with councilmembers Mike Morasco, Tina Inscoe and Joe Garcia in favor, and Mayor Paul McNamara and Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez voting against.
The site consists of approximately 13.84 acres of land at the eastern end of the Downtown area, on both sides of Valley Boulevard, and generally bounded by E. Valley Parkway to the north and E. Grand Avenue to the south, according to the staff report.
The development will include 258 for-rent apartments, 90 senior apartments earmarked for residents 55 and up, as well as 162 for-sale row homes and villas.
The project’s commercial space will include a breakfast café, a retail farmer’s market, a collaborative workspace, a sky lounge bar and restaurant, a dog park and recreation amenities.
Palomar Hospital, which has been at the site since 1953, will be demolished to accommodate the project.
The council received around 50 public comments from different groups and residents regarding the project, with many questioning why the new development does not include any affordable housing or low-income units.
The Sierra Club North County Group has also been clear about their disapproval of the project, stating in a letter that “the proposed Palomar Heights 510-unit townhome project is deficient for what the city needs. Sierra Club is opposed to this project because it is not dense enough and, given the perfect location for transit-oriented development, a larger project should be demanded– at least of 900-1,000 units with a significant percentage of affordable housing.”
The Partnership for Downtown Escondido has also stated that the project “discourages pedestrian activity, isolates neighborhoods, and stifles economic activity relied on by local businesses.”
Councilmembers Morasco, Garcia and Inscoe agreed that a development like this could attract families to downtown and revitalize the area.
Both Mayor McNamara and Councilmember Martinez criticized the plan for lacking affordable housing.
“This is not as good as it could be, it needs to be better. I don’t want my name associated with this,” said McNamara.
The council also voted 3-2 to exempt the project from a requirement to join the city’s Community Facilities District, which was established last year to recover the costs of providing city services to new developments.