August 13, 2011

North County Times

by Barbara Henry

A proposal to build a partially walled-in, 16-home development in northeastern Olivenhain has prompted debate over whether Encinitas’ most horse-friendly community should still be considered “rural.”

Attorney Marco Gonzalez, who represents the project’s developers, argued Thursday that their Desert Rose Way project isn’t much different from the surrounding neighborhood, which he describes as essentially “typical, suburban-sprawl McMansions.”

“They’re not uniquely rural in any sense,” he said.

That’s not at all the way the property’s neighbors view their Olivenhain community.

“We don’t have sidewalks, we don’t have streetlights,” said Bill Butler, who lives on Via di Felicita, as he described the horse trails and other features of his neighborhood. “I would strongly disagree with that statement.”

The planned housing development hasn’t yet come before the city’s Planning Commission —- that’s set to happen this fall —- but already, Olivenhain is blanketed with opponents’ signs declaring “Save Desert Rose.”

Opponents also have created the website

The proposed project would go on a nearly 8-acre parcel that’s home to a small-scale horse-boarding facility. Towering eucalyptus trees shade much of the gradually sloping hillside and wetlands occupy the lower, southern edge of the land.

It’s easily one of the most rustic-looking properties in the area —- many of the homes along the nearby cul-de-sac streets are relatively new, with tile roofs, multiple-car garages and extensive landscaping.

Butler lives in one of those newer homes. He said that the newer housing developments may not have the old “rustic” barn look, but that they are situated on large lots and have a more rural feel  because they don’t have sidewalks or streetlights.

The homes typically are on at least a half-acre, and sometimes several acres, he said.

Plans on file with the city indicate that the Desert Rose project developers are seeking a special state “density bonus” exemption that would allow them to put 16 homes on their land, rather than the 12 units that ordinarily would be allowed.

The state exemption allows developers to put more homes on a given lot if they will devote some of the units to people with low income. The Desert Way project is proposed to include two income-restricted units.

If the density bonus is granted, some of the lots within the development would be a quarter-acre, but the majority would be half-acre, a report from project architects DZN Partners Architecture of Encinitas states.

These small lots are quite a bit different from other recent projects in the area, Butler said Friday, describing the traffic troubles and fire safety concerns that neighbors fear may occur if this project wins approval.

The proposed housing site is at the end of a long road that’s far from any city fire station and is in an area where residents have long had issues with emergency vehicles’ response times, he noted.

A city fire department document states that response times to the proposed housing site could be as long as 16 minutes, and that the city would seek extra fire safety measures, including a wall around part of the property and sprinkler systems in the homes.

Call Barbara Henry at 760-901-4072.