ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Planning Commission recently approved a sister project to the luxury Alila Marea Beach Resort along North Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia.
At its June 16 meeting, the Planning Commission unanimously approved developer Larry Jackel’s mixed-use complex consisting of 94 rental apartment units, 34 hotel units, four mixed-use commercial buildings and two commercial buildings.
Commissioner Steve Dalton recused himself from the vote due to his associations with the developer.
Nineteen of the rental apartments will be inclusionary or affordable housing units, while the rest will be market-rate. Eight of the hotel units will also be affordable, per the city staff report. A bridge will connect a small hotel at Marea Village to the neighboring resort. The site will also feature pet-friendly spaces and a dog run, communal fire pits, fitness center, drought-tolerant and native landscape, and 33,900-square-feet of open space.
“In terms of effectively utilizing this property, this is the right place for the project on a commercial and residential level,” said Chairman Kevin Doyle. “This project really hit it all on the head — it didn’t just check the boxes that it needed to — it was truly a model project and was done beyond properly at a high level and an easy one for me to approve.”
The project must still meet certain clearances from the city’s engineers before construction can begin, which Doyle estimated would likely not begin until early next year.
The development is directly adjacent to the existing Alila Marea resort, which was first built in 2020. Marea Village will be located on a four-acre swathe of land located just south of the resort and on the west side of North Coast Highway 101.
“This project is probably one of the most unique properties of all those that were upzoned to meet state housing mandates, and it’s the only one west of the 101 that’s mixed use and has mandatory overnight accommodations from the Coastal Commission, including affordable accommodations,” said Marco Gonzalez, an attorney for the developer. “It’s a perfect complement to the Alila Marea hotel and it will activate the north end of Leucadia 101 and provide a beautiful entrance to the city for folks coming from the north.”
An environmental impact report (EIR) on Marea Village, presented to the Planning Commission, concluded the development would have potentially significant impacts in a number of sectors, including anticipated impacts on carbon emissions, traffic, and biological resources.
However, in all cases excluding impacts on traffic, the city staff report found adverse impacts could be mitigated through measures adopted by the developers.
The Planning Commission adopted a statement of overriding considerations in regards to the EIR, declaring the project’s advantages outweighed the “unavoidable” impacts on traffic.
“The city declares that, having reduced the adverse significant environmental effects of the project to the fullest extent feasible by adopting the mitigation measures identified in the EIR; having considered the entire administrative record on the project; and having weighed the benefits of the project against its unavoidable adverse impacts after mitigation, each of the social, economic, environmental, and other benefits of the project…have been determined to separately and individually outweigh the potential unavoidable adverse impacts and render those potential adverse environmental impacts acceptable …” the report read.
Many residents wrote letters in support of the development, however, some also expressed displeasure with the anticipated impacts on traffic and potential increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Others argued the project should have included significantly more affordable housing units than the 20% threshold met by the developer.
“Gathering places for residents and visitors, room taxes, designs that seem agreeable to the community — those are good things,” said Cindy Cremona, a mayoral candidate. “But I will miss that open space. Also, as Streetscape takes away lanes on the coast highway, this and other projects will be dumping traffic onto north Leucadia’s streets. When the City Council considers the Alila Marea plans, the hearing should address cumulative impacts on infrastructure, pedestrian circulation, loss of open space and impacts to the bluffs.”
District 3 candidate Julie Thunder also weighed in on the plans, focusing her criticisms on affordable housing and traffic.
“With over 800 new housing units coming to Leucadia, it’s going to be difficult to get through La Costa Avenue and North Highway 101 in a reasonable amount of time,” Thunder said. “Marea Village property was identified as an affordable housing site. How do you justify adding high-end hotel rooms and pricey retail to that?”
Encinitas mayoral candidate Jeff Morris criticized what called the council’s habit of acting first and asking questions later.
“Projects such as these should be based on community interest input and not special interests (developers or their attorneys) input,” Morris said. “Our city needs to turn around their practice of making a decision and then asking the public what they think. My decisions will be based on community interest and not special interest. I find it interesting that the attorney who supports this project [Gonzalez] already has a political action committee to support the candidates that supports theses kinds of projects.”
Former planning chairman and District 4 candidate Bruce Ehlers, who was removed from his planning role in April, said he had mixed feelings about the project.
“I thought that overall, the project was well done,” Ehlers said. “Fortunately, it kept the density below the maximum allowed and is aesthetically attractive, but its cumulative impact on traffic in Northwest Leucadia was not mitigated. Now the city needs to address the cumulative infrastructure impact in Leucadia due to their approving this and several other large projects in the area that we have shoehorned in the Quail Gardens Drive and La Costa 101 region.
“We had the [Alila Marea] hotel, we had 1967 Vulcan, then we’ve got Foxpoint Farms, Sunshine Gardens, soon you’ll have the Baldwin project. So, overall I’m definitely concerned about traffic and parking, and traffic in northwestern Leucadia in particular.”
The former commissioner also said felt like the project fell short in providing a sufficient quota of affordable housing units.
“I would fully support this if there had been a stronger requirement for inclusionary housing,” Ehlers said. “Twenty percent fell short of our goals for the R-30 projects, and I think that I have the agreement of all the planning commissioners on that. It should have been much greater for these R-30 zones, something more along the lines of 30%, 40%, 50% — that’s the range where the compromise really should have been.”
Gonzalez argued the concerns over traffic congestion were not unique to the Marea Village project, and emphasized the development, as a whole, met the highest environmental standards possible.
“This project is a perfect infill opportunity, there’s virtually no meaningful habitat on sight, no biological resources will be impacted, and the mitigation for everything other than VMT is perfectly appropriate and adequate,” Gonzalez said. “Taken in conjunction with Streetscape improvements, this project isn’t going to have a negative impact on the existing environment.”
The attorney expressed that far from having any detrimental impact on Leucadia’s unique subculture, the project would boost regional vitality while adding an attractive and engaging aesthetic to the northwestern sector.
“When you talk about the culture of Leucadia, there’s always people that will take a snapshot in time from the 70s and 80s and hope that it stays the same forever, but that’s no one’s reality,” Gonzalez said. “The important thing to note is that with this project, after many, many months and many, many meetings, there isn’t significant opposition at these meetings. We received very little negative feedback on the architectural design and the overall aesthetic of the project. Overall, we strongly believe that this will in fact complement the cool and funky nature of Leucadia.”