VISTA — The Vista City Council unanimously approved a 183-unit residential project proposed for a mostly vacant lot west of the railroad tracks and across the road from the new Found Lofts project by the same developer, Tideline Partners.
Known as the Kensho Residential Project, the development off Guajome Street at the edge of the downtown district was brought to the City Council on Tuesday after being rubber-stamped by the Planning Commission earlier this month. The developer proposes a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units spread between four buildings tucked into the site’s natural slope leading up to Lado de Loma Drive.
The council also approved a mitigated negative declaration, a general plan amendment to allow for increased density and a zone change, making the site part of the Downtown Specific Plan.
Lev Gershman of Tideline Partners said the project would enhance the growth of Vista’s downtown and specifically bring in more residential units that the city has planned for in its Downtown Specific Plan. It is located minutes away from the downtown corridor and Vista Transit Center.
“Kensho is located in the heart of the South Santa Fe arts and culture district and is designed and programmed to help fulfill the goals of the downtown community plan,” Gershman said.
Of the 183 units, 24 will be designated as affordable to moderate-income households, or 80% to 120% of the area median income. The project will also provide 266 parking spaces, and 50% of the project site will be green space.
During the council’s two-hour discussion, several residents asked them not to approve Kensho, sharing concerns that it is not a good fit for the site, will increase traffic on residential streets, would inhibit safe fire evacuation, and could increase stress on the slope, resulting in potential landslides.
Plans for the project show vehicle access points via Guajome Street, but some residents said those living in Kensho would likely take Lado de Loma as a shortcut. They emphasized that Lado de Loma is a small rural road without sidewalks or shoulders and is unprepared to take on the additional traffic.
“If you’ve been on that road, you know this project is nice, but it’s not good for this site,” said resident Julia Shriver, who lives within a half mile of the plot.
Resident Joseph Robbins worried that allowing such dense development would pave the way for similar projects that would forever change the small residential character.
“I’m concerned that once we start letting development stand sixty feet tall west of the railroad tracks, we’ll go up the hill and over the hill, and it’s over. I’m worried about the future of the area,” Robbins said.
Gershman said Tideline has worked with the city and residents over the past two and a half years to make it a good fit for the neighborhood.
The project is tucked into the slope in such a way that the tops of the buildings are at street level with Lado de Loma, and the planned landscaping on the hillside will create a “buffer” between the project and neighbors.
According to Schmidt Design Group, the landscape architect for the project, the design also addresses soil erosion on the slope.
“We’re adding a lot of plant material on the hillside with many different types of trees and species… to try to strengthen the slope as much as possible, so we think the plan that we have will significantly help with any soil erosion in the future,” said Todd Schechinger, an associate at Schmidt Design Group.
Council members said they understand residents’ concerns but emphasized the benefits of deed-restricted housing and developments that revitalize the downtown area.
“I have sat up here and voted against a lot of development. A lot, because they were sprawl developments… this is a completely different model,” said Councilmember Corinna Contreras. “We can get 24 units that are deed-restricted affordable. That helps stabilize the rent for folks.”
The only structure on the site is a boarded-up single-family residence on the edge of the site, connecting to Lado de Loma. Tideline plans to demolish it and build a new single-family home, possibly with an accessory dwelling unit, separate from the Kensho project.
Councilmembers also approved a waiver allowing Tideline Partners to pay in-lieu fees to the city rather than undergrounding overhead power lines beneath the railroad tracks.
Tideline opened the nearby 42-unit Found Lofts on South Santa Fe Avenue, most noticeable by its 60-foot, bright pink mural by Dutch artist Joram Roukes, in 2022. The San Diego Architectural Foundation named it one of last year’s best architectural projects.
According to Tideline Partners, the name Kensho is based on the project’s goals for wellness and connecting with nature. In the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition, kenshō means “seeing one’s own self” or “enlightenment.”
Project completion is expected to take just under two years.