Though La Jolla Community Planning Association (CPA) trustees had many positive things to say about the revised Hillel Jewish student center during its June 7 meeting, the group ultimately denied its approval of the plans, following emotionally charged community feedback that was equally divided for and against the project.
The proposed center, which would be located adjacent the UC San Diego campus on the south side of La Jolla Village Drive, has been in the works since 1998. Such Hillel centers are located on or near campuses around the world.
The Hillel project is scheduled to go before at least one more community advisory group before it reaches the San Diego City Council for ultimate approval at the end of the year, Michael Rabkin, Hillel of San Diego’s new executive director, told the
La Jolla Light
In 2006, the city council approved the project and sold the property to Hillel. Two years later, the court of appeals ruled that the project required an environmental impact report, which Rabkin said is nearly complete. Hillel is seeking community approval for a site development permit and right-of-way vacation at the .76-acre site, as well as approval to operate the center in an existing single-family residence, until the project’s completion. The residence at 8976 Cliffridge Ave., formally known as the Potiker House, is currently being used as Hillel’s offices.
In response to concerns from city advisory groups and nearby residents, Hillel reduced the project’s size from 13,000 to 6,600 square feet and moved its entrance from the heavily-traveled La Jolla Scenic Drive North to La Jolla Scenic Way.
The revised plans also call for replacing a cul de sac on the property with a 10,000 square-foot park, as well as the addition of a pedestrian path and bike lane.
“As a resident of La Jolla Shores driving through this intersection for 34 years, I’ve always felt this cul de sac was a visual blight on an otherwise really beautiful intersec- tion,” said the project’s architect, Mark Steele. “Will we lose a few parking spots? Sure, but what’s more important?”
A large portion of the discussion revolved around whether the Hillel center is a reli- gious institution, which is allowed in a sin- gle-family residential zone, or a student cen- ter with an institutional use, which is not permitted.
“Parsing that is real tough,” said trustee Tim Lucas, who also serves on the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee. “I do know it’s only for student use, not for the benefit of residents in the area. Typically churches and synagogues are allowed in resi- dential areas because it’s a benefit to the resi- dents. This would not have any benefit.”
Lucas said there are 57 religious-affiliated groups at UCSD, and that approval of the Hillel project could open the door for simi- lar requests.
“Any group that claims to have a religious affiliation could start buying houses and put- ting centers into that neighborhood,” he said. “It sets a precedent. That’s a concern of mine.”