La Jolla's permit reviewers approve museum expansion

Development Permit Review group also approves 'Duke' statue for eatery, nixes two-story home addition

During the July 21 Development Permit Review (DPR) committee meeting, the group approved plans for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD) La Jolla expansion and remodel, as well as a bronze statue for the front of the forthcoming Duke’s restaurant on Prospect Street — though voted against a two-story, Bird Rock home addition.

The DPR committee, which meets 4 p.m. the second and third Tuesdays of the month at La Jolla Rec Center to review development permit applications, generally lauded MCASD’s plans. They involve demolishing a home it owns to the south of the museum, and constructing a 41-vehicle, underground garage, and a two-story exhibit wing with an ocean-view patio. Plans also call for the conversion of Sherwood Auditorium to a high-ceilinged, naturally lit gallery.

MCASD’s current parking lot, at the northern end of the property at 700 Prospect St., will become a public sculpture garden.

The applicant is seeking a coastal development permit, plus a La Jolla Planned District Special Use Permit and planned development permit for its 53,469-square-foot addition. The planned development permit includes potential deviations to local development standards for: an accessible lift and stairway within a street side-yard fronting Coast Boulevard; an encroachment over a new entrance fronting Prospect Street for an 80-foot trellis (where only 50 feet is allowed); height slightly in excess of La Jolla’s 30-foot height limit (albeit still conforming to Proposition D); and retaining wall and stairway on the south side of the property, which may be blocked off with a gate opening only from the inside.

The project will also include a new entrance and bookstore off Prospect Street, additional office space and an enclosed loading dock. The museum will increase from 51,545 to 105,014 square feet, with the greatest portion of it — 84,581 square feet — as exhibit space; its floor-area ratio (the size of a structure relative to its lot) will increase from 44 to 67 percent.

No changes are proposed to the fenced-off Scripps Sculpture Garden off Coast Boulevard, though DPR members asked the applicant to study ways to increase public garden access, and possibly add a connection between Prospect Street and Coast Boulevard.

DPR chair Paul Benton of Alcorn & Benton Architects recused himself from the discussion to offer a presentation on behalf of the museum (his client) while DPR member Mike Costello filled in as chair pro tem.

Benton noted that a large Norfolk pine tree at the southwestern corner of MCASD’s property (at Cuvier Street and Coast Boulevard) would be moved or removed. If moved, Benton said, it would either be relocated slightly east of its current site (near the new garage entrance) or to the planned public sculpture garden at the north of the property off Prospect Street.

As a point of reference, Benton said the western-most side of the new wing would be built to where the pine tree now stands. A cobblestone wall at that corner, not original to the building, but added as part of an art installation in the 1980s, may be removed or retained.

Landscape architect Jim Neri said moving the pine tree, also added sometime in the late 1980s, would be expensive, but possible.

Between the new section and the apartment complex to the south, Neri said he plans to plant Silver Spear bushes (similar to New Zealand flax), Boston Ivy, cascading rosemary that would “spill over the retaining wall and mask it,” and natal plumb, which he said has thorns “to keep (transients) from thinking it’s a great place to sleep.”

Architect Claude-Anthony Marengo, who plans to renovate the adjacent In Eden apartment complex (sold in 2013 for $8.95 million) said he is concerned there would be little articulation along MCASD’s southern edge, as presented.

He also said the new wing would encroach so far into the corner of Cuvier Street and Coast Boulevard that it would block views. “Selfishly, we look out from that corner,” Marengo said. “We feel we’re being framed off. … I would say bulk and scale is your issue.”

Community member Ed Comartin also suggested museum officials downsize the new wing to retain some of the view at the southwest corner of the property, and keep the pine at its current location — as “a gift” to La Jollans.

“You’ve got 40,000 paintings to display, but you’re not going to display them all at one time,” Comartin said. “The corner of Cuvier and Coast Boulevard is probably one of the most dynamic corners on Coast Boulevard. It’s a gorgeous view. … The museum is really too aggressive as far as the bulk and scale here.”

Benton noted the new wing would step down the slope from Prospect Street to Coast Boulevard to mitigate the impact on neighbors’ views. “You’re talking about a view across private property,” which is not protected by city or state regulations, he said.

“This is a collection of gallery spaces that are going to serve the museum well, which take advantage of the view in a way that the museum has never really done with its gallery spaces before — and that’s well within their right,” Benton said.

DPR member Angeles Liera agreed finding a way to retain some of the open space at that corner would be a “win-win.” She said she is also keen to keep the pine tree in its current location. “If you really think deeply about it, you will figure out that it’s more cost effective to keep the pine where it is and shift the building a little bit,” she said.

In the end, a motion to approve the project passed by a vote of 3-1-1, with DPR member Bob Collins in opposition.

The day before the DPR meeting, La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO) committee also considered the project, finding it does not conform to the PDO (La Jolla’s blueprint for design) with respect to its height and front-, rear- and side-yard setback encroachments. However, the PDO group recommended unanimously that DPR accept the museum’s proposed deviations, with the exception of a deviation for the southern stairwell, which the PDO committee feels should be located inside the building.

Dolphin Place project 
called into question

Permit reviewers also passed a motion that findings could not be made to approve coastal and site development permits for a 550-square-foot, second-floor addition to an existing one-story home at 5606 Dolphin Place. A ground-floor deck is also proposed for the rear of the house, the floor-area ratio for which will increase from 40 to 60 percent.

The site exists within a “scenic overlook” identified in the La Jolla Community Plan, though the city determined the house is not historically significant — something to which DPR members Diane Kane and Angeles Liera took exception. The intensity of the development and its potential to block neighbors’ views was also broached (even though private views are not protected).

During the July 21 meeting, project architect Mel McGee said he believes the proposal is a “modest project.”

Neighbor Rick Kruse, who resides in a 1946 William Kesling home directly east of the project site (for which he is seeking a historic designation), said he represents a group of nine neighbors in the area opposed to the home addition. “All we’re asking for is something that is in context, character and scope with what is there (in the neighborhood) today,” he said.

“We’re going to just live in a shadow,” added his wife, Anne Kruse.

Liera said the applicant’s plans make the property “really crowded,” and that a proposed covered patio appears more like a building, adding to its bulk and scale. Liera and DPR member Matthew Welsh both suggested the applicant move the second-story addition closer to an adjacent two-story residence.

“You have a lot of drawings for this project, but what’s telling is that you’re not showing how it will affect the neighbors,” Costello added, noting that the La Jolla Community Plan calls for a more gradual transition from newer to older development.

The motion in opposition passed 4-1-1, with Welsh opposed and chairman Benton abstaining.

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