Working Document Done: Proposed ‘Mansionization’ rules for La Jolla make group rounds

Regulations to curb the proliferation of “mansionization” of small lots in La Jolla are one step closer to the floor of City Hall. But first, they must garner local approval and a vote of support from the La Jolla Community Planning Association, which will hear the proposals, 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

Spurred by organized residents known as Citizens for Responsible Coastal Development (CRCD), the Incentive Based Zoning for Coastal Development regulations come in response to the increase in houses being built that are boxy, out of character with the neighborhood and significantly larger than the houses around it. The regulations propose a point system that would allow developers to easily obtain a Coastal Development Permit if they integrate features recommended in the La Jolla Community Plan.

The measure recently earned a vote of support from La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committee and La Jolla Shores Planned District Advisory Board. The draft that exists now, according to CRCD member Sharon Wampler, is a “working document” and “not final until the City says it is final.”

The CRCD committee has been working on the proposal for more than two years. The group functioned as an Ad Hoc committee under the La Jolla Community Planning Association starting in May 2015. After one year, the committee dissolved and continued worked as a citizen’s initiative.

The current system for new development requires a Coastal Development Permit, which can take years to obtain, cost thousands of dollars and require community review. There is one exemption, known as the “50 percent rule,” through which a developer can bypass the Coastal Development Permit process and obtain the permit over-the-counter if they maintain 50 percent of the original structure.

However, “systematic abuse” of this rule has yielded houses being torn down to their studs and rebuilt in a style that became known as “McMansions” (large, boxy, modern houses).

“We heard from a number of property owners, developers and architects that the current process is expensive, lengthy and unpredictable,” said CRCD member Diane Kane.

“There was also a systematic abuse of the 50 percent rule for coastal permits. That is creating a lot of projects that are getting no community review. … There is also a disconnect between the recommendations in the San Diego Municipal Code and the local Community Plan and we’ve learned this is going on all over San Diego.”

Through the proposed new rules, a developer could obtain a Coastal Development Permit over-the-counter if they include in the designs features recommended in the La Jolla Community Plan and adhere to what is known as a “floating Floor-Area Ratio (FAR)” system.

FAR findings

FAR has been defined as the relationship between the total amount of usable floor area that a building has, or has been permitted for the building, and the total area of the lot on which the building stands. The maximum FAR allowed in La Jolla is .6 (not including non-livable spaces such as basements, carports and decks) but La Jolla Shores does not have a FAR maximum. The FAR maximums in turn put a limit on the maximum square footage of the proposed development. The larger the FAR, the more square footage allowed.

“We looked at 20 other cities to see what they are doing,” Kane said. “The system most conducive to our situation in La Jolla is the one developed in Coronado where (with new development) the base FAR is .4, but you can earn points to reach as much as .6 FAR. You can do a plan check at the counter and get a permit by showing in your plans where those incentive-generating features were used. We’re not proposing a reduction in FAR, just how you get there.”

Incentives include: designing houses of a single story; building mass being broken up with H, I, L or U shaped floor plans; setting back the second story from the first story by a minimum of eight feet on one or more secondary facades; and more. There are 11 incentives total.

“If you do not want to do that, if you want to do something really creative and interesting, you can still do that, you just can’t do it over the counter (and will have to undergo full community review),” Kane said. Should a developer seek a (very common) Site Development Permit in addition to a Coastal Development Permit, they would still need to come before the community planning groups for review.

Early review

When heard at La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (for information only, not a vote) trustee Matt Edwards opined that these regulations could cause “the pendulum to swing too far.”

Added trustee and architect Tony Crisafi, “This is going to lead the area into this half-overbuilt-half-cottages community. It could help us formulate ideas about whether proposals are good enough because we have specific measures to which we can refer. But is it so radical that if we apply it to our review process, versus what’s already built in the community, are we going to find it’s too large a conflict (to what is already here)?”

Next steps

According to City of San Diego Planner Marlon Pangilinan, once the proposal makes the rounds to La Jolla’s community groups, and gets a vote, it proceeds to the Planning Department and other City entities before it comes back to the community for a final vote. “If and when City staff decides to move forward with it, it will come back to the community for a formal recommendation,” he said.

Those interested in learning more can attend the next La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting, 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. or e-mail crcd.sandiego@gmail.com

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