OCEANSIDE — Despite nearby residents’ pleas, the city of Oceanside approved zoning changes to nearly 26 acres of land along North River Road to allow up to 359 new homes.
The Oceanside City Council on Aug. 24 rezoned a pair of adjacent parcels at 4617 and 4665 North River Road from “light industrial” to “medium-density residential” in a 4-1 vote.
The city’s Planning Commission previously approved the land conversion in late July.
The project area, referred to as Tierra Norte, is located on the south side of North River Road between Avenida Descanso and Calle Montecito and east of Douglas Drive in the North Valley Neighborhood Planning Area.
The change also established a Planned Block Development (PBD) Overlay District to guide specific standards for the properties’ future developments.
While the density change means Tierra Norte could have up to 500 units, the PBD Overlay originally limited it to 400. That cap was changed at the City Council meeting to 359 following several nearby residents asking the council to reconsider.
No residential development project has been proposed for the North River Road property in Oceanside yet.
Despite the cap’s decrease to 359, residents were not satisfied with the council’s decision. Many felt that more homes would be too much for the area with its current infrastructure, causing even more traffic backup and a potentially clogged emergency exit in the case of a fire like what happened during the Lilac fire in 2017.
“It was very difficult evacuating the area,” said nearby resident Michael White. “There should be no population increase in the area until infrastructure improvements are put in place.”
Denny Cooper, who served as Oceanside Fire Department’s chaplain for several years and lives adjacent to one of the parcels, agreed with White. He explained that homes north of the San Luis Rey riverbed are difficult to evacuate due to the limited ingress and egress in the area.
“We need another outlet for north of the riverbed before we build,” Cooper said.
Sergio Madera, the city planner overseeing the project, previously explained to the Planning Commission that necessary traffic mitigation efforts would be known once a development project is actually proposed.
Other residents were also concerned about the loss of more industrial land. Both Madera and Dan Niebaum, vice president of The Lightfoot Planning Group who represented the property owners SoCal AG Properties and Nagata Brothers, explained that industrial land is mostly incapable with the surrounding neighborhoods, some of which have similar densities to what was proposed for the site.
The site currently sits vacant and was previously used for agricultural sources.
Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez noted that the city is currently working on updating its General Plan and traffic circulation element, which may help alleviate some of the concerns with the area’s traffic. He also agreed that the site would be more appropriate for housing, which he said the city “desperately” needs for its workforce.
“Housing costs are so high because we lack inventory,” Rodriguez said.
Mayor Esther Sanchez was the sole vote opposed to the change and attempted to get the PBD homes cap down as low as 76 units, which was an alternative analyzed in the final environmental impact report that many nearby residents favored.
Councilmember Peter Weiss was the one who proposed to lower the 400 unit cap to 359. He said that with the state’s push for more housing and dwindling local control for cities, a potential density bonus project proposed for the site would add even more than 400 homes to the site.
“I don’t want to see a density bonus used,” Weiss said.
Sanchez pointed out that the council had the opportunity to stop that from happening completely and further reduce the number of homes the site could have.
“Right now we have the opportunity to avoid that entire situation,” Sanchez said. “Four hundred is not a cap.”