Residents oppose size, density of La Jolla Unocal 76 gas station redevelopment
By Pat Sherman
A proposed mixed-use development project at the corner of Pearl Street and Eads Avenue that appeared to have little resistance and garnered only minor criticism during the Aug. 13 meeting of La Jolla’s Development Permit Review (DPR) committee, faced strong opposition during the DPR’s Aug. 20 meeting.
Property owner Mark Conger is seeking to replace his Unocal 76 gas station with a two-building, mixed-use project that would include a restaurant and retail space on the ground floor along Pearl Street and 12 two- to three-bedroom condos — 10 of which would be in a three-story building at the rear of the property. (See story and photos from last week’s La Jolla Light here.)
About 10 opponents at the meeting agreed in theory that such a project would look better than the existing service station, though sought drastic alterations in its size and density relative to the homes on Eads Avenue.
Doug and Karen Moranville, who live immediately adjacent the project in a one-story cottage, retained the legal services of attorney Julie Hamilton to dispute the development.
The site is located within two different zones: La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance zone (along Pearl Street) and a residential zone at the rear of the property that allows low to medium residential development (one dwelling unit per 3,000 square feet of lot area).
Though LaCava said during the Aug. 13 DPR meeting that the property would be developed as one complete parcel, associate attorney Leslie Gaunt (from Hamilton’s law firm) argued that the higher residential density permitted in the PDO zone along Pearl Street cannot be redistributed to the portion zoned for lower density at the rear of the property “without regard to zone boundaries.”
To proceed with development, the owner is seeking approval for a coastal development permit (CDP) and a tentative map (which shows the design and improvement of a proposed project and the existing conditions in and around it).
However, in order to redistribute the densities between the two zones, Gaunt said the project also requires a site development permit (SDP).
Gaunt went on to argue that, per San Diego Municipal Code, findings could not be made to approve the SDP, nor the CDP and tentative map, and that the design is “not consistent with the policies, goals and objectives of the La Jolla Community Plan and Local Coastal Program.”
“It literally doesn’t fit here,” Gaunt said, adding that, “the La Jolla Community Plan recommends avoiding abrupt transitions in scale between commercial buildings and adjacent residential areas,” in favor of gradual transitions.
LaCava said that by setting the majority of the building back from the property line by 11 to 14 feet, and setting the third story back from the rest of that building, the architect had softened the transition from new development to old.
Though the properties immediately south of the site on Eads are both one-story cottages, LaCava noted that the third house is two stories, as are other homes further along Eads.
Connie Branscomb, who has owned a home on the same side of Eads as the proposed development since 1967, said that after consulting with various land-use experts she also believes the redistribution of higher density zoning from the front of the property to the rear is circumspect, if not in direct violation of city code.
Potential parking impacts?
Branscomb also contends that the project does not allow enough parking for the restaurant and retail spaces, and would cause patrons and visitors to park along Eads Avenue.
“As it is, there’s no parking for the residents on Eads,” she said, echoing the concern of a resident on nearby Fay Avenue, who said businesses take up most of the on-street parking on Fay until 6 p.m.
Gaunt also argued that project architect Alex Faulkner calculated the parking requirement incorrectly, shortchanging the project by five spaces in the proposed underground garage. However, LaCava said the architect’s calculations are correct because the project does not fall within a beach overlay zone, as Gaunt had suggested.
At least seven people indicated that they would like to see the driveway to the garage located off the back alley, instead of on Eads, where traffic is heavy. DPR Chair Paul Benton, who expressed concerns with the project’s bulk and scale, said he was “not convinced” that the garage access couldn’t be located off the alley.
“I think all the issues that were raised (here) went through our head when we were designing this project,” LaCava said, noting that a requested traffic study for the project was underway.
Gaunt and some residents in attendance also said the project lacks adequate open space, as recommended in the La Jolla Community Plan and Planned District Ordinance. Project plans state that a 20-foot by 20-foot open space (or “view triangle”) at the corner of Eads and Pearl would be used for restaurant patio seating, Gaunt noted.
Benton said that open, outdoor spaces are “not excluded from commercial uses.”
“I’m not excluding it,” Gaunt said. “I’m just saying it’s too small for the project size.”
Gaunt also noted a leakage of hazardous materials from an underground gas tank at the site that was listed on the State Water Resources Control Board’s GeoTracker website. The site says the leak was reported in March of 2007 and the case closed in July of 2008, and that “corrective action” in compliance with county health and safety code was carried out, and “no further action related to the petroleum release is required.” (Read the report here.)
However, Gaunt expressed “serious concerns about (project) excavation disturbing contaminated soils, resulting in migration of contaminated soils.”
LaCava countered, “Do you let it continue to be a gas station and let the problem get worse, or have it cease to be a gas station?”
DPR member Angeles Leira asked whether there was a way to shift some of the condos from the rear of the project to the front building.
“If you cannot have the flexibility of changing things around, that’s telling me that maybe this project is too dense and you could maybe reduce the residential (units),” she said, asking LaCava how many condos would be lost if the third story were removed.
LaCava said the loss would be two, three-bedroom condos.
DPR member Bob Collins lauded the design, but said he would be “more comfortable” with the project if the rear building were only two stories.
DPR member Diane Kane suggested that renderings of the project may make it appear more bulky and boxy than it would be from a pedestrian perspective. However, she cautioned, though the project may meet allowable code and zoning specifications, “good math does not always make good design.”
In the end, LaCava said he would confer with his client and present the project to the DPR again either during the Sept. 10 or Sept. 17 meeting.
The DPR meets 4 p.m. the second and third Tuesday of every month at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.
For updates on city actions related to this project, contact city project manager Paul Godwin at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be placed on the mailing lis fort: Conger CDP & TM, PN 294307.
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