By Dave Schwab
City council members on Tuesday voted 6-1 to grant an appeal brought by La Jolla's planning group that will require an environmental impact report for the three-story mixed-use Whitney project in La Jolla Shores.
The motion to grant the community advisory group’s appeal denying that environmental studies done on the project were sufficient was made by First District City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner. She is a past chair of the La Jolla Shores Association.
Councilman Kevin Faulconer cast the lone dissenting vote and Councilman Tony Young was absent.
“The applicants knew, very early on, that community groups were strongly opposed to the project,” said Lightner. “They opted not to work with these groups or to make any changes to their project to try to reach a compromise.”
Bob and Kim Whitney, who’ve owned the property since 2007, want to demolish a one-story residence at Avenida de la Playa and Paseo Grande and replace it with 2,300 square feet of street-level retail space with parking underground and two condos above.
Opponents contend the project’s Floor Area Ratio (FAR) — the total building square footage compared to the square footage of the lot — is excessive and makes it out of scale and character with surrounding commericial development.
Approved in July 2010 by a city hearing officer, the project has since been subjected to multiple appeals.
Lightner cited, for the record, several ways in which she felt the project’s environmental studies fell short of the threshold required to grant a Mitigated Negative Declaration, a determination that there are no environmental impacts from the project that can not be compensated for.
“There is fear the project will erode the charm, character and neighborhood feel of the Shores business community,” she said. “Any archaeologically significant remains, artifacts or fossils will be drilled to dust by foundation piers needed for this project.”
Lightner added she believed subterranean parking proposed by the project would not provide adequate visibility, imperiling vehicles, pedestrians and bicycylists.
Attorney Lynne Heidel, representing the Whitneys, argued the project is too small to be required to do a full-blown environmental impact report.
“This project is smaller than many single-family homes in the area,” she noted. "There is no sensitive habitat, no real traffic issues in terms of volume. What we have here is community-character issues based on misinformation. Misinformation does not constitute substantial evidence.”
Heidel contested architectural renderings being circulated by project opponents, arguing they do not accurately depict the proper scale of the building, how it would be adequately setback from the street and landscaped to complement the surrounding community. She contended the floor area ratio rules do not apply as they are not contained in the La Jolla Shores PDO, the community’s blueprint for development.
Heidel also characterized surrounding development in La Jolla Shores' commercial core as “eclectic,” noting there are numerous examples of existing developments three stories or higher.