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New density bonus ordinance mirrors state law, officials say

ENCINITAS — Encinitas officials are confident the new density bonus ordinance adopted last week by the City Council mirrors state law and will past muster if challenged in the courts.

The City Council unanimously adopted the revised ordinance at its Oct. 14 city council meeting. The new rules essentially defer to the state’s density bonus statute in the cases of any ambiguity.

State law allows for developers to build extra, or “bonus” homes on land if one or more of the homes are earmarked for low-income residents.

Developers have built a proportionally large amount of density bonus projects in Encinitas, which has caused a number of residents to complain that the city was too lax with its approval of projects, which they said altered the character of the community with oversized and super-dense units.

In July 2014, the City Council adopted a resolution to close what they called several loopholes that developers were using to build projects that had far more units than intended under state law.

The Building Industry Association of America’s San Diego chapter sued in October 2014, and the parties settled in July, triggering the council’s updated ordinance and the subsequent rescission of the 2014 resolution.

One thing the council did not give up as part of the settlement was the requirement that a project’s base density — which is used to calculate the density bonus — should be rounded down in the number of base housing units is a fraction.

The new ordinance states that base density will be based on the city’s applicable general plan and zoning provisions, which officials said state law allows. City staff, in its presentation on Oct. 14, presented a chart of the county’s incorporated cities, most of which round down in some form or fashion.

Several density bonus project opponents who were on hand at the meeting supported the council’s actions, which they said were a step in the right direction while still preserving the city’s right to “round down.”