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Senior care facility faces local ire as special election nears

SOLANA BEACH — A senior care facility proposed for a vacant lot east of the I-5 is facing growing ire from its potential neighbors, with a special election to determine the fate of its specific plan less than two weeks away.

Developer RhodesMoore LLC has proposed an assisted living facility with 96 beds for a 2.9-acre lot off of Genevieve Street and Marine View Avenue. A third of the facility would serve memory care patients.

In the upcoming all-mail ballot election — which will be held on May 7 — residents will determine the outcome of Measure B. The measure’s approval would expand the lot’s zoning to allow for a state-licensed residential care facility with up to 99 beds.

The vote is a mandate of Proposition T — a voter initiative approved in 2000 that requires a public vote for projects that would alter the zoning allowances of a property.

The vote would approve a specific plan overlay on top of the site’s current estate residential zoning, which allows for one to two dwelling units per acre. If approved by voters, the project would still face the Solana Beach City Council and California Coastal Commission for final approvals.

The proposed lot has long been vacant — overgrown with foliage and home to only the former caretaker’s abandoned house. The surrounding neighborhood is rural in nature: winding streets with few sidewalks, quiet and dense with trees and plants.

The neighbors like it that way — and worry what a 99-bed facility might mean for the character of their neighborhood.

Marcia Smerican, a former Solana Beach Mayor and 33-year resident of Marine View Avenue, worries the zoning changes will “transform our rural property … into something that’s just not compatible.”

At an April 16 community meeting with the developers, area residents toted signs and flyers stating “Vote NO on Measure B!” Members of the Marine View Homeowners Association are leading the neighborhood opposition, maintaining a website titled “Keep Solana Safe” to outline the neighbors’ concerns.

Their No. 1 qualm? Traffic. The project’s draft Environmental Impact Report anticipates the facility would prompt 263 additional trips per day, almost doubling the amount of traffic through the area. This number falls well below the road’s stated capacity (2,000), as outlined by the city’s Circulation Element.

“The traffic volumes are very low,” said RhodesMoore Inc. Principal John DeWald at the April 16 meeting, prompting “no ways” from the audience. “It probably has the least impact from a traffic perspective.”

The approximately one-hour meeting was led by DeWald; RhodesMoore Asset Manager Josh Buller; and Greg Roderick, the president and CEO of the site’s potential operator, Frontier Management.

The trio outlined the facility’s planned design (“residential and not institutional”), discussed the lifestyle that would be available to residents (“Montessori-inspired”), and highlighted the need in Solana Beach for housing — particularly housing for seniors.

But the meeting also prompted a lengthy back-and-forth on how potential visitors and staff would reach the facility, and how such traffic would impact local neighborhoods.

Would facility staff driving north on the I-5 take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit and veer south to Marine View Avenue, as the developer anticipates? Or would they dodge traffic and take the Via de la Valle exit and find their way toward Highland Drive, as the residents fear?

“The idea that visitors, delivery trucks, staff, etc. will come from only the north and not the south is illogical,” Rosemary Linden, Marine View HOA board member, wrote in an email to The Coast News.

Developers have highlighted roadway improvements that would be generated by the project, specifically along Genevieve Street and its intersection with Marine View.

And DeWald said the project’s team has been on the lookout for other community enhancements: such as speed limit indicator signs, roadway striping and bike lane markings.

Although not outlined as necessary by the draft EIR, such alterations could ultimately be a bargaining chip if the project goes before the city council.

But such potential improvements have not quelled residents’ concerns, with some interpreting potential efforts at mitigation as a lose-lose situation.

In a phone call with The Coast News, resident Perry Sexton said the most dangerous aspect of Marine View is the 90-degree turn north of the lot, which redirects the road south.

However, widening the road to mitigate the lack of visibility might negatively impact neighborhood character, he said.

“There is not going to be any change that the developer can make that would be sufficient to make it safe,” Sexton said.

But the developer said these concerns don’t hold water: in an email to The Coast News, DeWald said the developers have worked closely with the city’s Fire Department, Engineering Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, “who are all qualified to make safety assessments.”

“Neighbors have no such qualification, and no basis in fact for their claims.”

The project’s opposition and the developer continue to disagree over the project’s potential impact, with residents like Sexton stating that neighbors will feel the project’s impacts “dramatically,” and developers and supporters foreseeing low impact due to its location toward the edge of the neighborhood.

Although the April 16 meeting witnessed mostly opposition to the project, resident Caroline Demar urged attendees to consider the community’s greater good in judging the project.

“I know it’s hard to have this stuff happen in your backward, but I think there’s a time we as citizens have to think bigger,” she said.

The special election is slated for May 7 — which means all ballots must be returned by mail or in person to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters’ office by 8 p.m. on election day, according to the city’s website.