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San Diego U-T: “Small condo complex gets thumbs up in Vista”



By Teri Figueroa | 10 p.m. Aug. 11, 2015

 — A plan to build a small condo complex along South Santa Fe Avenue near Mar Vista Avenue won unanimous approval from the Vista City Council on Tuesday, months after the panel balked at the developer’s plans to build a larger apartment complex on the same slice of land.

The newest incarnation of the Nueva Vista project from developer Brandywine Homes is 22 units, more than a third less than the 35 units the company proposed last year.

Council and community concerns about the project’s look and density spurred Brandywine to make a number of changes, including a decision to sell the units as condos instead of renting them as apartments.

The developer also changed the size of the units, now designing them as three- or four-bedrooms floor plans, some of which are two-story townhomes. The original project called for all units to be two-bedroom flats.

“I am really impressed that you listened to every single bullet point, and addressed every single one of them,” Councilwoman Amanda Rigby said during the City Council meeting Tuesday as the panel reviewed the revised project.

Other council members echoed her pleasure with the changes and cited the developer’s responsiveness to community concerns. The council’s “love fest” — as Councilman John Aguilera said tongue-in-cheek Tuesday night — came eight months after the panel appeared ready to reject the development.

In December, the Planning Commission approved the project as a 35-unit apartment complex, over the objection of neighboring homeowners. The following month, the City Council signaled displeasure with the project, and Brandywine agreed to rework the plans.

The future of the project was in doubt. But changing the design to include bigger units and townhomes, as well as shifting from rentals to condos kept it viable, Mark Whitehead, a vice president with Brandywine, said after Tuesday’s approval.

“We really took (community concerns) into consideration,” Whitehead said. “It’s been difficult to salvage, but now we have a great project.”

Nueva Vista will go up on a 1.92-acre vacant lot near Cypress Drive and adjacent to a strip mall that is home to the neighborhood’s popular Sunrise Cafe.

If the council gives a final approval later this year, the condos could break ground in early 2016, Brandywine officials said.

“I hope that a project like this will beautify that area,” Aguilera said of the vacant land. “Right now it’s a pretty ugly piece of land.”

Commercially-zoned lots on the blighted stretch of South Santa Fe near Mar Vista have sat vacant for years, but in 2012 the city changed the zoning to allow for multi-family housing — apartments, condos and the like. Several development proposals are now in the works along the corridor.

Community outcry about appearance, density and traffic has led to changes in other projects in the area. Last August, the developer of a proposed apartment complex on South Santa Fe at Mar Vista agreed to trim the plans from 114 units to 96 units, and to pay for a traffic circle to smooth out heavy traffic at Mar Vista and Avocado drives — which carries traffic between South Santa Fe and state Route 78.

Across town in the city’s Breeze Hill neighborhood, homeowners are rallying to fight a proposed 101-unit apartment complex just off of Melrose Drive, about a block south of the courthouse. Density, appearance, traffic and parking top their list of concerns.

The uptick in multi-family construction comes as the region is in a housing crunch, with apartment vacancy rates at 3.8 percent in North County. Vista has more than 2,000 new apartments or condo units in the works.