Controversial three-story building approved

The train has left the station for a controversial mixed-use Bird Rock development project combining retail and residential uses in three stories on a corner lot.

The city Planning Commission voted 4-0, with two members absent and La Jolla architect Tim Golba recusing himself because of past involvement with the project while president of La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), in favor of Bird Rock Station on July 17.

Bird Rock Station proposes construction of a 20,507-square-foot, three-story, mixed-use development consisting of 11 residential condominium units and seven commercial units, including two levels of underground parking and a loading area on the 0.37-acre site at the corner of Bird Rock Avenue and La Jolla Boulevard. The ground-level retail development is proposed to be a gourmet grocery store/deli, though opponents of the development fear it could one day be turned into restaurant use with its attendant additional parking needs.

In sanctioning the project, commissioners accepted a Coastal Development Permit, a Site Development Permit, a Planned Development Permit and a Tentative Map for it.

Twice continued by the Planning Commission, Bird Rock Station was voted down 7-4-1 June 5 by LJCPA on grounds it would provide insufficient public benefit to justify allowing two exceptions to the Bird Rock's Planned District Ordinance (PDO), its blueprint for commercial development. Those exceptions are a third story and street access to the project's underground parking from Bird Rock Avenue rather than an alley behind the project site.

La Jollans spoke for and against the project July 17, but there were more speaker slips in opposition.

Commissioners asked Bird Rock Community Council president Joe La Cava why the community favored two rather than three stories of development within its PDO. "Two stories creates a different dynamic in the neighborhood than three stories," answered La Cava. "When you have three stories, it creates a lower ceiling on the retail space, making it less functional and attractive, and also reduces your ability to create variety in the streetscaping of the building."

Jim Fitzgerald, an LJCPA trustee, said the two-story provision in the PDO is as relevant today as it was when it was first drafted years ago. He also noted there was a "commonality" among the "laundry list" of public benefits touted by the developers for their Bird Rock Station project. "Not one of those benefits requires a third story," Fitzgerald pointed out.

Fitzgerald contended approval of a third story for this project would be precedent-setting. "If you approve a third story today, you're going to be setting a terrible precedent making at least part of the PDO effectively unenforceable.

"This precedent seeks to overturn 20 years' worth of experience and history and goes against the overwhelming wishes of the community."

Eric Naslund, Planning Commission vice chair, said he was faced with a conundrum in ruling on the Bird Rock Station project. He agreed the project could be precedent-setting, which could be dangerous. But he also felt the three-story design was less "boxy and imposing" than the two-story design.

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