La Jolla planners OK incentive-based zoning proposal: ‘Mansionization’ initiative goes to City for refinement

After more than two years, several drafts and countless hours of meeting, the Citizens for Responsible Coastal Development committee (CRCD) presented its incentive-based zoning proposal to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) for support. The citizen’s committee breathed a sigh of relief when LJCPA voted to move the initiative forward to the City for refinement and review, during its Nov. 2 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center.

The proposal is intended to replace with incentive-based regulations, a construction regulation known as the “50 percent rule” under which a project is classified as a “remodel” if 50 percent of the original walls are retained. The 50 percent rule is currently used to bypass community review and the need for a Coastal Development Permit (which can cost thousands of dollars and years to obtain) and has lead to what’s become known as “mansionization” or big-house builds.

The document proposes implementing a “floating Floor Area Ratio (FAR)” system, in which FAR is set at .4 and a developer could integrate certain building features to get up to a .6 FAR. La Jolla currently has a FAR maximum of .6. There are two sets of incentives in the CRCD proposal: one to reduce bulk and provide compatible neighborhood character, and another to enhance neighborhood character. A maximum of .1 FAR addition can be achieved with each one.

Here’s the deal

Among the bulk-reducing incentives, a developer could obtain an automatic .1 FAR addition if the house is one story. If not, other FAR addition come from features such as: 70 percent of the second story is set back from the first story by a minimum of 15 feet on primary front façade (.02 FAR addition); and exterior walls of building are offset from side yard setback by a minimum addition for four feet for a cumulative linear distance of at least 20 feet (.05 FAR addition).

The neighborhood-enhancement incentives include: roof decks are not visible from the street or are incorporated into the roof design (.03 FAR addition); garage doors are turned 90 degrees from the street or accessed from the rear of the property (.04); at least 30 percent of the lot is covered by vegetation (.03 FAR addition).

In point-counterpoint presentations, the pros and cons of this proposal were heard at the LJCPA meeting.

Proponent Diane Kane said the issue with the current process is that it is “lengthy, expensive, unpredictable and has unclear code language.” Because of that “we are ending up with systematic abuse of the 50 percent rule. Homes are stripped to their studs and a new home is built around that, and that is considered a remodel. This process does not go through community review. Projects completed this way are creating a lot of heartburn in the community … by being incompatible with existing development.” Some deem the resulting houses as “McMansions” because they are larger and boxier than what previously existed in the neighborhood.

Kane added that the CRCD group looked at what 40 other cities facing similar heartburn have done to alleviate the problem, focusing on Coronado, which has the floating FAR system if certain criteria are met. With the incentive system, projects are checked by a City planner, and developers indicate what incentive bonuses they’re using, and obtain a permit ministerially (over-the-counter).

“We’re not saying if you want something creative and trendy that you cannot do that, you just have to go through the process that currently exists (apply for a Coastal Development Permit and undergo community review),” Kane said.

Architects weigh in

Bird Rock-based architect Mark Lyon spoke in opposition, saying “not only is this not better than the 50 percent rule, it’s a disaster.” Lyon said he and other architects reviewed “several iterations and we started running scenarios and looking at language to see how this would affect the current rules and regulations.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that this is not fair. Right now, you can build to .6 FAR with no strings attached. Your proposal is to build to .4 with no strings attached and to build up, you have to get a coastal permit or not build to what is legally allowed now.”

Architect Michael Morton said the proposal takes away property rights and needs to be further refined.

CRCD member Sharon Wampler stated the proposal is a draft document, and that with the CPA’s blessing, it can move forward to City planners who will evaluate it.

After some debate as to whether the proposal needs more polishing or whether it should proceed to the City to let staff refine it, a motion was made to accept the proposal as a concept and send it forward to the City for further review. It would return to community review before being codified.

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