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A proposed 151-unit housing project at 943 East Barham Drive in eastern San Marcos, shown in a conceptual illustration, was approved by the Planning Commission on April 4.
A proposed 151-unit housing project at 943 East Barham Drive in eastern San Marcos, shown in a conceptual illustration, was approved by the Planning Commission on April 4. Courtesy rendering
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Hallmark project heads to San Marcos City Council for approval

SAN MARCOS — A new housing project could be in the cards for eastern San Marcos after the Planning Commission approved the 151-unit Hallmark townhomes project along East Barham Drive last week.

The project, along with a proposed rezone, conditional use permit, specific and general plan amendments, multifamily site development plan and tentative subdivision map, were approved unanimously by the Planning Commission on April 4 and are now scheduled to go before the San Marcos City Council as soon as May 10, according to Planning Division Director Joseph Farace.

Project plans propose a mix of two and three-story townhomes containing 1- to 5-bedroom units, a central recreation building and open space areas, all on a vacant 10.5-acre grass lot at the city’s eastern edge bordered by single-family homes to the east and the Grace Church property to the west.

The project was guided by the city’s 2021 Hallmark-Barham Specific Plan, created with San Diego housing developer Hallmark Communities, which plans out specific residential uses for the lot. Hallmark Communities president Chris Hall said he was pleased to see the project approved after being in the works for around two and a half years.

“[With] the fact that the project was unanimously approved at Planning Commission and the city is in high demand for housing, we’re thinking it’s gonna be well received at the end of the day,” Hall said. “We are projecting to be a middle-income price point, which is the most needed part of the housing stock.”

If approved, the Barham Drive condos will be one of the higher-density products in a line of housing projects from Hallmark Communities. The company recently completed the 24-townhome Mission 24 residential project along Mission Drive and the Borden Glen 22-home community on Borden Road.

According to Hall, townhomes in the Barham Drive project are intended to be sold but could also be available for rent, depending on the status of the market. Due to the density, costs are likely to be lower than the company’s other projects.

“The density will lend itself to a lower price point product. It’s a concern for a lot of buyers and renters, so I think we’re gonna be able to satisfy some of the need that’s out there,” he said.

The City Council will need to approve a rezoning of the site from a mixed-use to a specific plan area zone to allow for residential development. Under the city’s Housing Element, new housing projects must include affordable housing units for certain income levels or pay in-lieu fees to go toward future affordable housing projects.

Hallmark Communities will pay an in-lieu affordable housing fee of around $1.5 million to the city rather than developing low-income units on-site, Hall said.

During public hearings regarding the project over the past two years, an ongoing concern from nearby residents has been the potential impact on traffic along East Barham Drive and the nearby state Route 78 interchanges. A traffic study for the project anticipates an additional 1,200 daily trips on average.

“At high traffic times it is nearly impossible for vehicles exiting Grace Church and the small homeowners’ community to turn left onto Barham,” one resident said in 2020.

The traffic study found potentially significant impacts on the level of service near the intersection of Rancheros Drive and the westbound 78 onramp, and city staff recommended the addition of a traffic light at the intersection. However, that improvement would require the approval of Caltrans, according to staff.

Despite concerns, city staff maintains that the project will be a good fit for the area.

“The Hallmark-Barham Specific Plan Area proposes a multi-family residential development, which constitutes an appropriate transition from the neighboring single-family communities and the commercial (church) land uses,” a staff report states.

City Council meeting agendas are posted on the city’s website at san-marcos.net.

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