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Escondido Seeks Public Input On New Denser Housing Downtown

The old Palomar Hospital Building in Escondido, which is slated to be torn do...

Photo by Alison St John

Above: The old Palomar Hospital Building in Escondido, which is slated to be torn down and replaced with more than 500 homes, is pictured May 21, 2019.

The city of Escondido is taking public comment on plans to knock down the old Palomar Hospital building and build more than 500 new homes in its place.

The hospital sits on 13 acres of prime real estate on a hill overlooking Grand Avenue and downtown Escondido, the city’s business district. The health care facilities are slated to shut down because a new Palomar Hospital opened across town in 2012.

By Reporter Alison St John

The city of Escondido is taking public comment on plans to knock down the old Palomar Hospital building and build more than 500 new homes in its place.

This week, the city held a public workshop on Palomar Heights, a planned development that would build 90 senior apartments, just over 250 four-story apartments and about 160 townhomes on the site. Plans include fewer than 1,000 parking spaces and a small commercial footprint. The project is within walking distance of shops and restaurants on Grand Avenue, but Escondido’s transit hub is at the other end of Grand.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the city of Escondido

This undated graphic rendering shows the proposed Palomar Heights development in Escondido.

Much of the housing surrounding this end of downtown Escondido is single or two-story homes, and the proposal for four-story apartments would redefine the area. But principal planner, Adam Finestone, said city staff would have liked to see more density than the developer proposed for the site because the city is in urgent need of more housing.

“The higher the number, the better for us,” Finestone said. “Getting 510 units on a site that allows 1,350 or more: that’s going to be a challenge for us to meet our housing goals. But we’re looking for other avenues that we might be able to take to get that accomplished.”

The city council recently agreed to adopt a “density transfer” program that would allow the city council to approve denser zoning on downtown lots if some developments, like Palomar Heights, do not use all the density allowed under current zoning.

Local residents have until early June to give their input on the plan for Palomar Heights.

Fred Wollman, a North County resident who attended this week’s workshop, said he liked the proposal, with some caveats.

“If it can be documented there’s a need for that much housing then I support this,” Wollman said. “The only issue is transportation: how do these people get from their units to wherever they’re going to work, and if they’re all going to go out to Interstate 15, then that could be a real issue the city needs to consider, prior to approving this project.”

Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara said he’s in favor of building densely in the city center in order to avoid sprawling out into the rural and agricultural countryside surrounding the city.

“I think right now this is one of the better compromises," McNamara said, "to infill in the urban core as we try to hold on to our green spaces for future generations.”

McNamara said he is working on changing the narrative about Escondido, building on its agricultural roots and developing the urban areas into a welcoming place to live. He said Palomar Heights is a significant development that would revitalize downtown Escondido.

“It is part of the core of our city,” he said, “and so we want to get it right.”

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

In today’s San Diego News Matters podcast: How police and deputies can better respond to people with mental health challenges, local abortion rights advocates join nationwide protest and a north county city looks to knock down an old hospital to make way for new housing.

Aired: May 22, 2019 | Transcript

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