The Alpine Family Apartments project is located on two lots totaling 1.86 acres, located at the west end of Marshall Way in the Alpine Community Plan area, 0.3 miles south of Interstate 8. The project site is surrounded by existing single-family dwellings, condominiums and multi-family housing developments and is approximately 550 feet south of Alpine Boulevard.
The project allows for construction of a 38-unit affordable housing apartment complex. The project includes 17 one-bedroom units, 11 two-bedroom units and 10 three-bedroom units.
The project includes four 35-foot tall building, three for residential units, one for the leasing office, residential units, laundry, and recreation area. The project has a total of 59 parking spaces, allowing lower parking ratios for affordable housing projects. The applicant, Alpine Family Apartments, LP, requested incentives including allowing three story building and retaining walls that exceed maximum heights within the setbacks, as part of the Density Bonus program. The project is designed to conform to the Alpine Design Guidelines. The project includes sustainability features: solar panels, seven electric vehicle pre-wired parking spaces, LED lighting, low flow water fixtures.
The project entered into an Affordable Housing Agreement with the County of San Diego Housing and Community Development Services Department and awarded $4.3 million through HCDS. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the funding on Feb. 25, 2020. This agreement requires the development to reserve 31 units for very low-income households and six units for low-income households.
The Alpine Community Planning Group recommended to deny the project.
Ashley Smith, San Diego County Project Planning Division and Planning and Development Services department chief, said ACPG focused on certain areas of concern of why the project should not be approved. It focused on parking on the surrounding streets, access to the project site, and pedestrian safety due to the lack of sidewalks there.
“Just to be clear, the ACPG’s denial is a recommendation for consideration by the planning group,” said Smith. “We did take those points into account, but when looking at all the code requirements required to be met by the site plan, we were able to make findings that those were completed appropriately. Hence why we moved forward with a decision by the director to approve the project.”
Smith said the ACPG filed an appeal of that decision in December 2020 based on the same merits.
“The Planning Commission is the appeal authority for a director’s decision, so they heard the appeal on Jan. 22, and voted to deny the appeal and uphold the approval of the project,” she said. “The design is part of the site plan modification process, so they give us conceptual designs of the structures. That comes from the applicant, so in this case it was the Family Alpine Apartments, LP. There are community plan guidelines which we review those designs against, so they have been found to meet those guidelines.”
In his appeal to the county to scrap the current design, ACPG Chair Travis Lyon said the project could be allowed by “right,” and could be constructed with only ministerial approvals, except for B Designators placed on properties within village cores that requires projects on those properties to go through the design review process. Lyon said the current design should be tossed aside, especially when it effects public safety.
Lyon said they met with the county on site to discuss the portion of Marshall Road that is private property and occupies about a quarter of that road.
“All site distance studies and the requirement that ingress and egress be through legal access through a county maintained road was all based on the fantasy that residents will take the roundabout route in traveling up Eltinge Drive to Marshall Way, then back to the project rather than cross that small strip of private road that creates a direct connection to Marshall Road to the north,” he said. “This project is part of the private easement that needs to be improved and dedicated to the county as a publicly maintained road.”
In an email to Lyon from the County on Jan. 6, the County said it requested the applicant to conduct a sight distance analysis at the intersection of Marshall Road and Eltinge Drive and determined based on sight distance and traffic volumes, and all-way stop sign at this intersection was not warranted, as a stop control already exist on Eltinge Drive. The County also stated that it is working with the applicant to see if they would be willing to put in a stop sign at that intersection, at their discretion, and approval of the Board of Supervisors.
Lyon said there is a lack of pedestrian safety leaving the project site. He said the Design Review Board and the ACPG both requested that these 120 feet of sidewalk be constructed from the project’s northeast corner to existing sidewalks on the adjacent property to the north. The County responded to Lyon, that it does not have the authority to require sidewalks outside the limits of the project frontage and on a private road.
Lyon said that parking was also a strong issue, especially for the surrounding communities.
“The truth is that surrounding streets will be inundated with parked cars from the project who will have a horrible time parking at their own residences,” said Lyon.
Smith said there are various ranges of housing that must be provided throughout the county that range from middle income to very low-income, and that there are numbers that must be provided in each of the categories.
“This project is providing in the low and very low-income categories,” she said. “We look at the Area Median Income. That number is $92,500. To be in the low income range, that would be a person making 51 to 80 percent of that AMI. Very low would be making 50 or less percent of the AMI, to qualify.”
Smith said that now that the applicant received its discretionary approvals, the site plan modification granted by the commission on appeal in January, it now needs to receive any grading and improvement plans completed, then moving forward, building permits to go vertical on the structures.
“As they go to get their grading improvements, there are several conditions of approval from the site plan modification that need to be met before we can grant a grading permit for the project,” she said.
Lyon said the property has a natural 25 percent slope from the east to the west and that the project design does not follow the contour of land.
“All four buildings and parking are essentially sited on a tabletop that is achieved by a massive amount of fill being brought onto site,” said Lyon. “There is no doubt that this project, three stories high, located on a naturally high area will stick out like a sore thumb. Design guidelines are in place to prevent other issues such as the disruption this amount of grading will cause. The planning group estimates this project may require up to 10,000 cubic yards of dirt to be imported. Look at the 14 foot retaining walls on the north and south property lines. Look at the 31 feet staggering retaining walls to the west side of the project.”
Smith said the applicant has not indicated a building time frame yes, but the site plan modification is good for a period of two years. They would otherwise have to request a time extension.
“I do think that this applicant is very motivated to move forward, but I do not have an expectation of when they will receive their grading or building permits,” she said.
Smith said the county has needs to provide housing at each income level and there are only certain general plan designations that allow for a density high enough, which typically allows for these types of units to be provided.
“In order to meet those needs, that needs to occur countywide, not in just one specific area or those numbers are probably not going to be met,” said Smith. “From the county’s perspective, they have abided by all of the requirements in place to allow us to make a decision to approve the site plan modification for the use that they requested.”