Group discusses retooled environment report on Hillel Jewish student center

Hillel plans to build a 6,479-square-foot center for Jewish students near UCSD on this pie-shapped parcel at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road. It would include a 27-space surface parking lot along the east portion of the site. Pat Sherman
Hillel plans to build a 6,479-square-foot center for Jewish students near UCSD on this pie-shapped parcel at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road. It would include a 27-space surface parking lot along the east portion of the site. Pat Sherman
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Hillel plans to build a 6,479-square-foot center for Jewish students near UCSD on this pie-shapped parcel at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road. It would include a 27-space surface parking lot along the east portion of the site. Pat Sherman

By Pat Sherman

An ad hoc committee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) met at La Jolla Rec Center Feb. 27 to discuss a revised, draft environmental impact report (EIR) on the Hillel Center for Jewish Life.

The faith-based student center is proposed for .76 acres adjacent the UC San Diego campus, at the intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Village Drive. During the past decade, the size and scope of the project have been reduced from 12,000 square feet to about 6,500 square feet to assuage neighbors’ concerns.

According to Hillel’s executive director, Michael Rabkin, the EIR was largely “re-circulated” to include a historic evaluation of an adjacent residence used as Hillel’s offices (at 8976 Cliffridge Ave.)

The LJCPA denied approval of the project early last summer. Concerns raised last month by the five-member ad hoc committee and a handful of La Jolla Shores residents included its potential to disrupt the architectural unity of the surrounding residential neighborhood and a driveway they say is located precariously near the intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Village Drive.

The committee also opined that the latest EIR does not take into account all the cumulative impacts of project — chief among them, the development of the Venter Institute across Torrey Pines Road. Scheduled to open later this year, the 45,000-square-foot genetic research laboratory would include three or four additional buildings — each adding its own traffic impacts to the area, the committee noted.

Julie Hamilton, an attorney representing Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use, the group opposing the project, said the EIR refers to the Venter site only as “an undeveloped lot.”

Section 15130 (A) of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires, in part, that project applicants such as Hillel include in the EIR “an adequate discussion” of significant cumulative impacts of past, present or probable future projects, including those outside their control, Hamilton said.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Shores’ residents, an appellate court ruled in 2009 that Hillel was required by law to comply with CEQA mandates.

“The Venter Institute, by law, has to be considered under cumulative impacts,” Hamilton said.

Rabkin said Venter developers conducted their own traffic study, which can be referenced by the public.

Other concerns raised during the meeting included whether allowing the Hillel center would open the floodgates for similar religious student centers in single-family residential zones adjacent UCSD. Of the 530 student groups at UCSD, 60 are religious in nature.

The LJCPA has questioned whether the Hillel center’s primary use would be as a religious institution, which is allowed in a single-family residential zone, or a student center with an institutional use, which is not permitted.

There are currently three faith-based centers adjacent the UCSD campus, including a Mormon facility on La Jolla Farms Road, though they are smaller than the proposed Hillel center and none are within the La Jolla Shores Planned District. The La Jolla Shores PDO, or development blueprint, states that religious institutions must be used primarily for religious purposes.

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