Shade structure gets La Jolla Shores café owners in trouble with City

When the Shorehouse Kitchen restaurant opened at 2236 Avenida de la Playa in 2015, its owners built a shade structure and a doghouse on the adjacent right of way. At the time, they didn’t think of getting a construction permit. “That was our own naiveté,” said John Freis, one of the owners. “We assumed that it wasn’t a problem, there was (another shade structure) down the street already.”

Now, they are pursuing Neighborhood Use and Site Development permits for the shade structure, sidewalk café, outdoor seating, enhanced paving and seating benches they built without a permit on the public right-of-way. Their case was heard at the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) on Feb. 21.

PRC chair Dave Gordon told La Jolla Light that prior to the meeting, committee members received comments from City staff requiring Shorehouse Kitchen to take down the shade structure and doghouse. “There’s a lot of questions in my mind as to why the Development Services Department (DSD) is being so hard on them,” he said, “I haven’t heard from one single resident saying they weren’t happy (with the shade structure).”

The 250-square-foot trellis features six vertical poles, 10 horizontal beams and a semi-transparent plastic cover that creates gentle shade. The problem is that the Municipal Code (Chapter 14, article 141.0621, Sidewalk cafés) states: “Awnings or umbrellas may be used in conjunction with a sidewalk café, but shall not be used as a permanent roof or shelter over the sidewalk café area.”

The Code also indicates that: “prior to installation of any furniture or improvements in the public right-of-way and prior to operation of a sidewalk café, the applicant shall obtain a Public Right-of-Way Permit or Building Permit.”

Freis said the owners had considered a portable shade structure. “We could put umbrellas out there or some portable structure that could be folded up at night, but the umbrellas blow away and this trellis we designed matches the architecture of the building better,” he explained.

He added that the partners have already paid more than $15,000 in City and attorney fees, and would like to keep the structure as it is.

“(The restaurant) shouldn’t have built this without a permit, but the sad thing is, the City probably would have said ‘You can’t build this,’ but this shade structure is amazing,” said customer Sharon Wampler. Her coffee date, Diane Kane, agreed, “This is a wonderful space,” she added.

However, not all the community is in agreement. The City’s DSD website shows that the Code Enforcement case against the Shorehouse Kitchen was started March 16, 2015 with a citizen complaint.

Asked whether the restaurant owners were going to be forced to take down the trellis or just get the pertinent permits, DSD deputy director Michael Richmond said the applicant requested to maintain the structure and the request was “under review.”

The City hasn’t issued any fines to the restaurant so far, Richmond said. “Potential enforcement methods or correction requirements are not under consideration while the permit request is pending,” he explained, adding that the City’s goal is to obtain voluntary compliance once the affected party is notified of the violation.

As for the doghouse, Freis said that it was installed as an ornament and to protect a water backflow meter sitting inside it. “It was just an idea to make it a little prettier,” he added.

After the first presentation before PRC, both parties (applicant and committee members) seemed content to let the shade structure stay, but comments from the City caused the board to suggest a few changes before the final presentation. “I think if they just made some small changes to make the trellis portable, they should be able to keep it,” Gordon said.

The next presentation on the issue will be 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 28 at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St.