Neptune Avenue. Inset: The city did not require the property owners to assume the current and future risks.
  • Neptune Avenue. Inset: The city did not require the property owners to assume the current and future risks.
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Surfrider and two members of the California Coastal Commission are challenging two homeowners’ plans at the bluff’s edge on Neptune Avenue.

While the City of Encinitas approved the projects 40 feet back from the edge (and will let the owners add features between the houses and the bluff), the challengers say the houses should be at least 96 feet from the bluffs.

“The plans don’t comply with the city’s Local Coastal Program,” said Julia Chun-Heer from Surfrider.

The two couples planning the houses have been working on plans since 2013. Both houses will have basements and two stories, with extensive backyard features, including caissons that Chun-Heer sees as precursors to “future coastal bluff armoring.”

Neptune Avenue is a narrow, one-way street that stretches north about 2.25 miles from Sylvia Street (just north of Encinitas Boulevard) to Grandview Beach, a city beach and parking lot. Houses along the west side of Neptune have unobstructed views of the beach and ocean north of Moonlight Beach.

The city did not require the property owners to assume the current and future risks.

Most all the simpler homes have been torn down and replaced with houses like the ones that Gary and Bella Martin and Jim and Karla Lindstrom hope to build — 3100-square-foot, two-story houses with a basement and an attached two-car garage.

Similar houses on Neptune sell for upwards of $3.5 million.

The solution that many bluff-top owners pursue to prevent erosion is what Chunn-Heer calls coastal armoring, concrete walls to keep the sand on the bluff. But that blocks the natural formation of beach, leaving the choices of adding sand by expensive pumping and dumping of offshore sand or letting the beach narrow until it’s gone.

Experts in beach dynamics say that sea-level rise is going to require adding sand to buffer the land; armoring blocks the natural process, they say. The commission’s geologist determined the Martin house should be set back 96.5 feet from the bluff for safety, according to a coastal commission report. Since the lot is 120 feet by 40 feet, it would only support a smaller house than the one proposed. Similarly, the Lindstrom house should be 62 feet from the bluff, not the 25 feet or so that their plan is based on.

The commission’s geologist calculated a rate of erosion more than three times higher than the couples’ expert, according to the report.

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