La Jolla Permitters deny Dolphin Place project

After four hearings over two months, the proposed Hardiman Residence in Bird Rock received a 5-1-1 “no” vote from the La Jolla Development Permit Review committee (DPR), Aug. 15.

At issue was the lack of additional parking, the height of the building, and perceived bulk and scale. The project applicants can proceed to the next La Jolla Community Planning Association with the no vote, or return to DPR for another presentation. The next step was not announced.

The applicant, developer Joshua Wood, requests a Coastal Development Permit for the demolition of existing single-dwelling and construction of a new two-story-over-basement house with a total of 4,110 square feet of new construction at 5626 Dolphin Place.

When heard July 11, July 18 and Aug. 8 and 15, issues such as parking and whether the project conforms to the La Jolla Community Plan were debated. Nearby residents also spoke against the project due to its bulk and scale, their loss of views and nonconformity with surrounding houses.

Parking problems

Phil Merten, representing a growing number of residents (the most recent count is 22) that took exception to the project design, spoke about the parking. He read City regulations that state “single-dwelling units that do not provide a driveway at least 20 feet long … shall provide two additional parking spaces.”

Wood said the project includes two garage spaces accessed through an alley, and does not have a driveway. As such, his interpretation is that the driveway regulation does not apply. “Driveways that serve as direct access to off street parking and that traverses a sidewalk or curb shall be at least 20 feet long. In this case, we do not have that, so the parking requirements that call for two extra spaces don’t apply. We’re not traversing the sidewalk or the curb,” he read.

Wood distributed correspondence from the City that suggest his interpretation is correct and said he “completely disagrees with Mr. Merten on parking issues.”

Trustee Angeles Leira noted that the area was parking-impacted due to its proximity to the beach. “If there is anything you can do to provide additional parking, it would be big,” she said.

Community character

There was further disagreement about the La Jolla Community Plan and whether the project conforms. The project features two cubical stories with staggering open sides broken up with shutters, decks and overhangs. The maximum height is 29 feet.

Wood argued there are sections within the Community Plan that emphasizes diversity “more than a uniform theme or development pattern,” and showed examples of houses of different styles and mass found within a few blocks of the subject house.

“I understand some people would prefer not to have contemporary projects in the neighborhood. But the client has bought the property and is looking for a contemporary home,” he said, adding that the client currently resides in Chicago facing an alley with high ceilings and wants to continue with that aesthetic. “We are well within the setbacks on all sides. I find it hard to say we are not in line with what the community is today. It might not be what it was 50 years ago, but it is with the way the community is shaped now.”

Of the newer houses, trustee Diane Kane said many of the projects were not heard at public meetings because they fell under the “50 percent rule,” through which applicants maintain 50 percent of existing framework and receive building permits over the counter. Had they gone through community review, she opined, some might not have been built.

“We all know this is an area of transition where there is a lot of new construction going on that is quite different from what was there originally,” she said. “We have a neighborhood that has been fairly aggressively redeveloped using other regulation and approval processes that has thrown the community character into transition. Where is the tipping point when you’ve lost what that neighborhood was and it becomes something else?”

Merten added that the Community Plan states, “to maintain and enhance existing community character and ambiance and to promote good design and visual harmony, in the transitions between new and existing structures, preserve the following elements: bulk and scale (to be consistent) with regard to surrounding structures from the public right of way,” he read. “This project simply does not comply with the Community Plan.”

He also argued the Community Plan says the upper floors at the front elevation should be set back, “much in the way the houses on both sides of this do,” but with this project, “the upper floors cantilever over the lower floor. It’s the exact opposite of what the community plan calls for.”

Neighborhood input

During multiple meetings, neighbors attended and spoke out against the project. One said she purchased her home for the ocean view, which would be lost with the construction of the new house. Another resident said the house would be too large for the lot and analogized the construction to “fitting a size 10 person into size 4 jeans.”

Another noted, “Rarely does a neighborhood come together with such unity in opposition to a project.”

A motion carried 5-1-1 that findings could not be made for a Coastal Development Permit because the project does not conform to the community, particularly because its height is inconsistent with the area, there is lack of articulation on the east wall and it does not provide additional parking in a beach-impact area.

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