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Lawsuit Targets Housing Project
Olivenhain group seeking environmental study for plan to build 16 homes

By Barbara Henry, May 7, 2013

Members of an Olivenhain residents group have filed a lawsuit against the city and a developer who is planning to build 16 homes in their neighborhood, asking the court to demand a full environmental report be completed on the project.

The residents’ attorney, Everett DeLano, said Monday that they hope the case, which was filed last month in Superior Court, will cause the Encinitas City Council ultimately to rethink its vote to approve plans for the Desert Rose Way development.

“The council had discretion to decide whether or not to reject the project,” DeLano said, adding that he doesn’t buy the council’s argument that it had no choice but approval under state housing laws. “I think they were operating with the wrong premise.”

Marco Gonzalez, a noted environmental attorney who is representing developer Woodridge Farms Estates, strongly disagrees. On Monday, he emphasized that the company has complied with state housing density bonus laws with its project and they will prevail in court.

“We don’t expect the judge is going to respond to this much different than the City Council did,” he said. “At the end of the day, even if successful (in their lawsuit), the best they’re going to get is an (environmental impact report) — they’re not going to stop the project.”

Under state law, developers can obtain special privileges, including the option of putting more homes on their lots than might ordinarily be allowed, if they set aside some of the housing for low-income residents.

Woodridge Farms Estates is proposing to build 16 homes on what is now a 6-acre horse boarding facility on Desert Rose Way, which is east of Rancho Santa Fe’s intersection with 13th Street on the very edge of the city limits. One of the homes is proposed to go to a low-income family.

Neighboring homeowners have long argued that 16 homes is too many for the 6-acre lot, saying the project doesn’t fit with the surrounding rural area and will be a fire hazard. In November, a majority of the city’s Planning Commission agreed and voted to deny the project.

However, the developer then appealed that decision to the City Council, which — after two meetings and many hours of public testimony — voted in March to approve the project. Opponents filed their lawsuit April 15.

In the lawsuit, members of the Save Desert Rose residents group argue that the city of Encinitas violated the state’s Environmental Quality Act by failing to adequately assess the development’s environmental impacts. Both the city and the developers are named in the lawsuit.

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and/or permanent injunction on the city taking any additional steps to process the project’s paperwork until “adequate environmental analysis” occurs and the court case is worked out.

DeLano and Gonzalez said Monday that no court dates have yet been scheduled.

“We expect a mandatory settlement conference pretty soon, but we’ve heard no notice of it yet,” Gonzalez said.

Tom Curriden, an Encinitas city planner, said Monday that the city already is in a holding pattern when it comes to the Desert Rose project. The project map approval process already is done, and the design review process won’t start until the developer files the authorization paperwork, he said.


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