There are 57 million square miles of land on earth, including the 4,206 square miles of San Diego County. Even as our population grows, spaces in the midst of our concrete jungle lay strangely fallow. This is the first post in an occasional series to explore those mysteriously unused or seemingly untended bits of land.

Do you pass by a building or a lot that you’ve always wondered about? Want to know what the plans for or owners are of a curious space in your neighborhood? Let me know.

Where’s that lot? In Encinitas. It’s right along North Coast Highway near the intersection with Cadmus Street, between a liquor store and a Mexican restaurant.

Why are we picking on that lot? Someone told a reporter about a community curiosity.

Who owns that lot? Eugene and Margaret Chappee, according to city property records.

How’s that lot used? It’s an old salvage yard that’s been there for years – even before Encinitas was incorporated as a city in 1986. It doesn’t conform to city zoning regulations but has been grandfathered in, said Jeff Murphy, the city’s director of planning. If the scrap yard weren’t there, the property could house a coffee shop or any number of businesses.

There is a relatively new fence there along the street, blocking the view of sprawling stuff that could be seen by passersby. Piles of stuff remain visible in slightly dated aerial photos. Now, what sits in the lot is hidden by the wooden fence out front and other barriers on the side.

“It’s been kind of a part of the city for so long that people don’t really make comments about it,” Murphy said.

Back in the 1980s, the city of Carlsbad won a multi-year fight to close another Chappee salvage yard in that city, which was considered a nuisance. But don’t expect such a battle in Encinitas.

“They can operate and continue as is until they decide they want to leave,” Murphy said.

There is a house there, which the Chappees own. A woman who answered the door last week said they were eating dinner and not interested in talking. No one at the property could be reached for further comment.

The lot was the site of a tragic incident back in 1985. According to the Los Angeles Times, Eugene Chappee, then in his early 60s, choked to death a 23-year-old man who wandered on to the property one morning after an all-night party. There were two versions of the incident. Chappee was charged with involuntary manslaughter but those charges were dismissed by a judge.

A few business owners in the area don’t know much about the place now or its owners.

Joel Bloomberg, a glass maker in Encinitas, said the old salvage yard may be an eyesore but it’s a hidden eyesore because of the wooden fence that blocks view from the highway and sidewalk. It is one of the last lots of its kind still standing.

“Lots are fewer and fewer between as everything gets bought up around here,” Bloomberg said.

Even though there are new shops and a couple new buildings along that stretch of highway, Shawn Holder, the owner of nearby Pannikin Coffee & Tea, said the strip looks much as it has for a few decades. Across the street from the coffee shop is a trailer park. On the other side, along the oceanfront, are big houses on Neptune Avenue.

“There’s some balance here,” Holder said. “I think that’s part of the charm of the place.”

Want to know more about a mysterious piece of property in your part of town? Email me about that lot and tell me what you think. Your suggestion could be the next, What’s That Lot?

Ry Rivard

Ry Rivard was formerly a reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about water and power.

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