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A rendering of the proposed development along Whaley Street in Oceanside's Fire Mountain neighborhood. Screenshot/Rendering by Kirk Moeller Architects
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Fire Mountain residents push back against Whaley Street project

OCEANSIDE — Hundreds of Fire Mountain residents are objecting to a proposed residential development along Whaley Street that will add eight new four-bedroom, two-story homes each equipped with a junior accessory dwelling unit.

The project proposes to build eight new single-family homes and maintain four existing homes on a 2.15-acre parcel on the north side of Whaley Street between Kurtz and Hunsaker Streets. The plan would divide the entire parcel into 12 separate residential lots ranging between 4,158 to 9,093 square feet.

Developer Rincon Homes applied for a density bonus as part of the project, which under state law allows for a development to add up to 50% more density above what is already allowed based on the amount of affordable housing within the project.

According to Sergio Madera, project manager and city planner, the proposed project is building slightly fewer homes than what the density bonus would allow.

“They could build up to a maximum of 14 single-family homes on the site, but they’re choosing only to build 12 units rather than the allowable 14,” Madera said.

The four existing homes are included as part of the 12 units, with one of the existing homes to be saved for only very low-income residents as part of the project’s affordable housing requirement.

Because of the density bonus law, the project applicant is also allowed to request an unlimited amount of waivers for the project regarding lot sizes and setback requirements as well as waiving an undergrounding of utilities along public streets requirement and half-street replacements along surrounding streets.

Madera said these waivers would save the project applicant more than $2 million.

Now that the Planning Commission has approved the project, it’s expected to go to the City Council next. Neighborhood residents have appealed the project.

The March 21 appeal lists several reasons why the project should be denied, including its non-conformance with the general plan that dictates the area is zoned for residential dwellings at a density of 1.0 to 3.9 dwelling units per gross acre. The appeal asserts that the proposed project will have a density of 9.30 dwelling units per acre including its JADUs, which can be rented out.

The appeal also asserts that the project is inconsistent with state density bonus law, stating that the project should have at least one less unit due to the applicant rounding up, however, state law requires that any bonus calculations resulting in fractions be rounded up.

At the March 14 Planning Commission meeting, Madera explained that JADUs are not factored into the allowable amount of density bonus a project receives.

“It hasn’t been accounted for because that’s what state law mandates,” Madera said.

The “most significant issue” according to the appeal is the street improvement waiver. Many residents are worried about the increase in traffic, parking and other potential public safety issues the project could create.

According to both city staff and the project applicant, the project will only generate an additional 118 ADT (average daily traffic), putting the overall project at 168 ADT with the currently existing 50 ADT from the four homes already there. Because the project is below 200 ADT, it is not required to complete a full local traffic analysis.

Each of the homes will include a 2-car garage with a similarly spaced driveway and a space for JADU parking.

Residents also took issue with the height of the new homes. Most of the neighborhood consists of single-story homes, but these eight new homes would be two stories at a maximum height of a little over 31 feet.

“They look nice in the picture but it’s eight new homes that look nothing like the single stories that you mostly see in our neighborhood,” said nearby resident Jesse Schulman.

Madera noted that the parcel is currently zoned for homes at a maximum of 35 feet, meaning that the project fits current city standards.

Design concepts for the new homes include rooftop decks which is another concern for several neighbors. Dan Niebaum of Lightfoot Planning Group, a land-use planning firm representing the project’s applicant, pointed out that the top railing of the decks will reach a maximum height of 25 feet above ground level.

“They look over each other’s yards inside the project,” Niebaum said.

Nearly 500 signatures were collected in opposition to the project prior to the March 14 meeting when the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project. Though several commissioners also appeared to be reluctant about approving the project, they felt as though their hands were tied by the state.

To deny the project, the city would need to find a specific adverse impact that the project would create, which Madera defined as a “significant, quantifiable, direct, and unavoidable impact, based on objective, identified written public health or safety standards.”

Any inconsistencies with a zoning ordinance or general plan land use designation do not qualify as a specific adverse impact upon public health or safety.

“This is not an easy one,” said Commission Chair Tom Rosales at the March 14 meeting. “The bottom line is our hands unfortunately are tied so much by the state and its requirements to develop more housing.”

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