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The existing Solana Highlands apartment complex was built in the 1970’s. Residents speaking in support of the project called the current complex “dated,” and supported revitalization. The City Council approved the project at a Dec. 17 hearing. Photo by Lexy Brodt
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Solana Highlands project approved

SOLANA BEACH — After a total of eight hours of deliberation, view assessment proceedings and public comment, the City Council approved the Solana Highlands revitalization project at a Dec. 17 hearing, albeit with a number of conditions.

The project proposes bulldozing the current Solana Highlands apartment complex and constructing 260 units — 62 more than what currently exists on the site — and 525 parking spaces on the 13.4-acre lot off of Nardo and Stevens avenues. Thirty-two of those units would be reserved for low-income senior residents.

The council voted unanimously to approve the project, with now former Councilman Peter Zahn absent.

The approval process involved certifying the project’s final environmental impact report, approving its development review permit, structure development permit and vesting tentative parcel map, as well as its affordable housing plan, density bonus, waiver of development standards and a related fee waiver.

The hearing began on Dec. 5, but after five hours of deliberation and public comment, the council opted to extend the hearing to Dec. 17.

In the meantime, staff were able to address unanswered questions and pending concerns posed by council members and residents at the Dec. 5 hearing. After many residents opposed the magnitude of the project during the first round of public comment, the staff report clarified that “State Law provides no authority for the City to reduce the Project’s density.”

The state’s density bonus law stipulates that a developer is entitled to a density bonus and certain waivers of development standards if they provide affordable units.

In H.G. Fenton’s case, designating 15.5 percent of its units as low-income allowed it to request and receive a 53-unit bonus on top of what the current zoning permits. The city also granted the developer increased maximum building, retaining wall and fencing heights, as well as a $500,000 waiver, to fulfill “the need for financial assistance related to the provision of 32 low income (senior) housing units,” according to the staff report.

Seven new speakers addressed the council on Dec. 17, with nine residents opting to speak a second time following the Dec. 5 hearing. Resident Mary Hobson protested the density bonus, while other residents spoke against the project’s request for a fee waiver.

“(Density bonus law) basically means they can disregard most sensible zoning laws,” Hobson said. “Ironically, when it is done, 32 seniors will indeed have affordable housing, yet the 190 or so people that live there now will likely not be able to afford the new rents.”

Several residents addressed the council a second time at a continued hearing on the Solana Highlands revitalization project. The City Council hearing – which spanned over two separate days – lasted a total of eight hours. Photo by Lexy Brodt

Speakers implored the council to consider concerns regarding parking, traffic-calming measures, landscaping, and the potential negative effects of construction such as noise and air pollution.

In order to address comments regarding the monetization of parking and how it might affect an already morose traffic and parking situation on Nardo Avenue, city staff revised the resolution to ensure the applicant would not charge for parking spaces — though the resolution would not prohibit higher rent for apartments with designated garages or carport parking spaces.

The city addressed three view claimants who opted to take their claims before the council after they were denied by the View Assessment Commission. The council overturned the commission’s decision regarding Nardo Avenue resident John Wilson’s view claim, and proceeded to outline conditions requiring the developer to lower a building in Wilson’s view corridor by six inches, and tame any vegetation that would potentially block his view.

The city tacked on several additional conditions: requiring that there be no demolition or rough-grading on weekends, that notifications for noise complaints be sent out within a 500-foot radius of the project, and that the project be constructed in one, 24-month phase.

Other conditions include removing fencing previously planned for a park area, requiring pre-wiring of all garages on-site for electric vehicle charging, relaxing overnight parking conditions for electric vehicle spots, and allowing residents of the senior low-income housing units to use the complex’s pool amenity.

Council and staff anticipated addressing certain issues further down the pike, such as the project’s traffic calming measures and landscape plan.

At the end of the lengthy proceedings, Mayor Dave Zito thanked the audience for their participation and engagement.

“I think the end result is something that hopefully our community will be excited about,” Zito said.

The hearing marked the last major council decision for now former Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, who retired from her post for the second time just two days after the hearing.

Heebner said the project is a good example of the community “really coming out, speaking their mind and providing really good, constructive input to the council and developers,” and credited the developers with intuiting community concerns.

“The realities of the state density bonus law were understood for the first time by the community,” Heebner said. “They saw that their council was able to condition the project in a manner to address as many of the negative impacts as possible.”

Heebner anticipated it could be several years until the city sees the final product of its deliberation: the project will require a final stamp of approval by the California Coastal Commission.

H.G. Fenton released a statement to The Coast News after the council’s decision:

“We are grateful to the Solana Beach Council and to so many members of the community for their input and support. We look forward to building a revitalized Solana Highlands of which the whole community can be proud. Solana Highlands is an important source of multi-family housing in Solana Beach and we are honored to be able to revitalize it. The result will be a more attractive, functional and environmentally sustainable apartment community that will provide needed homes to many Solana Beach residents including low-income seniors.”