Downtown Escondido is going to look and feel very different in coming years as hundreds of apartments and condominiums come online along Grand Avenue and nearby streets.
Three projects recently won the Escondido Planning Commission’s approval and will go before the City Council in the next days.
It’s all part of a plan to bring thousands of new residents to the downtown area where it is envisioned many will use public transportation at the nearby transit center in lieu of personal vehicles. The hope is that all those new residents will shop and dine, revitalizing the historic area that has struggled for years with store-front vacancies.
Earlier this month, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a -unit, four-story project along Quince Street between Grand Avenue and Second Avenue. If approved by the council later this year, the housing will be built on a vacant lot less than a half-acre in size where an abandoned gas station and auto repair shop stood for years.
The commission also recently approved the controversial Aspire project, a -unit apartment complex. If approved by the council on Oct. , the six-story complex will replace a city parking lot between Grand Avenue and W. Valley Parkway across from the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, just north of Filippi’s Pizza Grotto and other businesses along Grand.
And just a few weeks before that the commission approved a plan to build a four-story, -foot-tall, -unit senior housing development on a .-acre parcel at the corner of W. Valley Parkway and Quince Street. Three vacant warehouses across the street from the transit center will be razed to make way for the apartments being built by Interfaith of San Diego. The council is scheduled to consider that project on Sept. .
All three projects are within , feet of the transit center.
And you can add to that the -unit “Gateway” project now under construction just a stone’s throw from the other proposed developments where the old police department headquarters stood.
Other residential projects in the planning stages in the general area and on the east side of downtown are a -unit condo project called The Ivy at Second Avenue and Ivy Street has already been approved by the council. Next year, the Palomar Heights project will likely come before the city for approval. It’s the biggest of all the downtown projects with plans that currently call for construction of apartments and town homes on the . acres where the old Palomar Health campus now sits.
Local business owners in the downtown area have mixed feelings about all the changes. While many say they like the concept of bringing many more potential customers to the area, they also worry about parking, which already is at a premium downtown. Most of the new projects have been granted a reduction in the number of parking spaces they need on the theory that in the future people will be driving less and taking public transportation more.
Some wonder if that really will happen and worry that less parking availability will discourage customers from coming downtown. Other residents fear the change that the big apartment complexes will bring and have expressed concern that the character of downtown will forever be altered for the worse.
During the most recent commission hearing, the one concerning the -unit apartment complex, most of the discussion centered around parking. Mark Baker, owner of an office building in the area, said plans to construct just parking paces for the project which would be contained in the first-floor garage was “not responsible.”
The commission conditioned its unanimous approval by requiring the developer to guarantee five automated auto-stacker machines that would allow a car to be parked above another vehicle via a motorized elevator-like contraption. And should parking become a real issue down the road, in which residents of the complex have more than vehicles plus the five using the auto-stacker, then an additional auto-stackers would be added.
The commissioners said parking has always been and always will be an issue in the city’s core. But several said people who choose to live in the new apartments downtown know what they are getting into and realize that the days of a car for every apartment resident is probably no longer the model.
Even with all the apartments and other projects planned for the city — including homes that will begin construction soon on the fairways of the former Escondido Country Club and luxury homes proposed to be built on the east side of town in the San Pasqual Valley Safari Highlands Ranch now rebranded Harvest Hills — the city still faces an almost unattainable goal recently set by the San Diego Association of Governments for future residential unit construction.
The region’s top planning agency has tentatively said Escondido must built , homes by as its share of new housing needed to meet future demand throughout the county.
Paul McNamara, like many mayors of cities outside of San Diego and Chula Vista, recently criticized the methodology used to come up with the , number and said there are going to be some tough decisions to be made.
He said some people don’t want in-fill projects, where existing low-density areas within the city are torn down and replaced with apartments and condos, while others don’t want new housing in open areas, which some consider to be urban sprawl.
“We have a challenge ahead of us,” McNamara said during a council meeting this month. “We know the projections are that another million people will be moving into the county over the next years. We’re going to have to make some tough compromises and your input will be very important to us.”
McNamara said that no matter what choices are made in the years to come, some people will not be happy. “But it is what it is and we aren’t going to be able to wish it away,” he said. “We’ve got to find a solution to this and it might be painful.”
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