By Pat Sherman
Members of the La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) subcommittee once again rejected plans for a mixed-use development at 7610 Girard Ave., declining to recommend that the city grant a coastal development permit and map waiver for the project.
In January, the DPR and La Jolla Planned District Ordinance subcommittees both denied approval of the project. Though during the DPR’s Oct. 15 meeting it was noted that the applicant, PQ Design Studio, had lightened the originally proposed color of the building to comply with La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (the community’s blueprint for development), the committee still disapproved of the 5,125-square-foot, three-level project’s design — specifically its height.
DPR members contended that the project’s partially submerged ground floor commercial space is actually a first floor, and not a “basement,” pushing the projet to three stories, which is not permitted in the zone of the PDO where the project is located.
“You said you’ve been diligently working with the city; I think it’s more like desperately,” DPR member Mike Costello said. “You’ve got yourselves locked into the notion that you’re going to have three stories in an area which allows two, and nothing seems to really work.”
Costello noted a project with similar, partially submerged ground floor commercial space in Bird Rock that was developed prior to the existence of the PDO, and for years sat more than 50 percent unoccupied.”
Angeles Leires, a former principal planner with the City of San Diego, likened the project to “the sisters of Cinderella trying to get their big feet into a size 5 shoe.”
“You can play all the games you want, but a basement is, by definition, below ground,” she said. “The purpose and intent of the PDO talks about development that is consistent with traditional scale and character of the community. Traditionally, ground floors were at the street level.”
Community member Kim Whitney noted that the Bank of America building on Girard has the same submerged first floor, as does the former Jack’s La Jolla building at Girard and Wall Street (currently being redeveloped as La Plaza La Jolla). Project architect Philip Quatrino said the city had him pull the building permit history for the Jack’s project, as a comparison.
However, DPR chair Paul Benton noted that both those projects were developed before the PDO and its design guidelines were established.
Benton said commercial space has to be located at street level, not in what the architect is deeming the basement.
La Jollan Leigh Hyman said delivery trucks from the adjacent Vons and Jonathan’s Market would pose a problem for residents residing in condos on the top two floors of the project. “These are things that your residents are going to go after the city for,” Hyman said.
Leires and DPR member Diane Kane said that in approving the “basement” design, the city shows it doesn’t fully comprehend the purpose and intent of the PDO.
“I think it’s a bad precedent to approve something like this,” Leires said.
Leires said that while the city used to have one person assigned to the PDO, due to budget cuts staff has “gotten further and further away from it.”