ENCINITAS — After the Encinitas City Council denied a local group’s appeal of the Marea Village development last summer, the California Coastal Commission has filed a separate appeal and is preparing recommendations based on the project’s potential conflicts with the Coastal Act.
Marea Village, a mix-use development proposed by developer Larry Jackel of Solana Beach-based Encinitas Beach Land Venture, would consist of 94 rental apartment units, 34 hotel rooms and six commercial buildings, serving as a sister project to neighboring Alila Marea Beach Resort.
The city’s Planning Commission initially approved Marea Village in June 2022, prompting the local group Friends of Seabluffe to file an appeal. The group, named for the neighborhood southwest of the proposed site, questioned the development’s impact on local infrastructure and the coastal environment, expressing concerns over bluff instability.
The council denied the Friends of Seabluffe’s appeal on Aug. 10, 2022.
Shortly after the council’s decision, Commissioner Donne Brownsey and Commissioner Caryl Hart of the California Coastal Commission filed an appeal with the State of California Natural Resources Agency regarding the Marea Village project, raising concerns about low-cost visitor accommodations, traffic and public access.
“The appeal process is triggered if the proposed project raises Coastal Act concerns,” said Julia Prieto, a coastal planner for the California Coastal Commission. “These concerns could be related to public access, biological resources, recreation, and low-cost visitor accommodations, among others. The appeal process for this project was triggered by concerns regarding the provision of lower-cost visitor accommodations at the proposed Marea Village Hotel.”
When assessing the application, the commissioners determined the applicants’ method of determining “low,” “medium,” and “high” cost rates was not consistent with how the commission typically determines those figures. According to the appeal, the city conflated two rate-finding methods, inflating the low-cost rate.
The commission argues the project does not appropriately provide for a “full range of affordability,” and the developer’s methodology does not ensure the provision of genuinely lower-cost rooms.
Along with not providing a valid full range of costs for travelers, the project will increase 1,173 average daily trips on the road and change the La Costa Avenue and Sheridan Road intersection, which was inconsistent with how it was portrayed in the project’s planning stages, the commission said.
La Costa Avenue is a primary east-west connector that provides access from I-5 to Coast Highway 101. According to the commission, the approved project will make accessing the coast more difficult and discourage public access due to longer wait times and increased traffic inconsistent with the certified local coastal plan and the public access policies of the Coastal Act.
The city later approved a statement of overriding public need for the intersection because the project is providing public benefits through the provision of eight affordable hotel rooms, according to the appeal documents. However, no approval restrictions require all eight rooms to be priced affordably.
“…The city has confirmed that, as approved, one room could be priced at the lower level, one at average cost, and the other six at 125% of average, or any other combination as long as a minimum of one room was in each of the three categories,” Brownsey and Hart wrote in the appeal. “Therefore, the number of low-cost rooms provided in the 34-room hotel is likely to be fewer than the 25% typically required by the Commission to meet the LCP-required ‘full range of affordability.’”
The state commissioners have reached out to the city and applicant to resolve the issues highlighted in the appeal, according to Prieto.
“We have been coordinating with the applicant and our statewide planning unit to develop a recommendation for the commission,” Prieto said. “We met with the applicant earlier last week and are now speaking internally to determine our next steps.”
Marco Gonzalez, attorney at Coast Law Group representing the developer, said most of the issues raised by the commission have since been resolved and anticipates the project moving forward.
“We appreciate the continued strong community support for the project, and with virtually all issues now resolved, we are looking forward to our Coastal Commission hearing and completion of the permitting process,” Gonzalez wrote in an email statement.
Prior to the agency’s appeal, the project also received opposition from the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians. During the council’s hearing of the Friends of the Seabluffe’s appeal last August, representatives from the tribe argued in support of delaying approval of Marea Village, claiming the city bypassed a 2015 state law requiring public agencies to consult with local tribes during the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, process.
Previously, a representative from the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians surveyed the parcels and remained on site for monitoring activities.
According to Bob Stark of Michael Baker International, the firm that conducted the project’s environmental impact report, the San Pasqual tribe was not included on an official notification list as required under Assembly Bill 52. Therefore, the law didn’t apply in this case.
Stark told the council the city initially reached out seeking informal consultation with the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, who requested that the city keep them updated with new developments. Two months later, tribal representatives sent another letter to the city requesting formal consultation about the project, but the city didn’t respond for several months, according to Stark.
“It’s unfortunate … the city was just not aware (the tribe was) waiting all those months to have consultation,” Stark told the council.
Dr. Giorgio Curti, a spokesperson for the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, blasted the city’s failure to respond to the tribe’s request.
“They keep saying it’s unfortunate,” Curti said. “It’s not unfortunate, it’s a failure on the city’s part. The simple fact is the San Pasqual tribe has not been included in this project the way they need to be, and therefore, this project is wholly out of compliance.”
Gonzalez said the tribe did not correctly file an appeal with the city based on their claims, and the council could not consider their complaints in the Friend of Seabluffe’s appeal hearing.
City staff said they are doing “everything possible” to involve the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians moving forward, including allowing tribal members on-site access to monitor the project. The Coast News could not reach the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians for comment but will update with any statements.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Marco Gonzalez, attorney for the developer of Marea Village.