At its next meeting, the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) will discuss updates to the city’s Land Development Code, and in particular, proposed changes that pertain to La Jolla.
But a few community eyebrows have been raised over one addition that could affect the mansionization trend and a few “clarifications” that also relate to building development. The meeting is set for 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 7 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.
A chapter within San Diego’s Municipal Code, the Land Development Code addresses zoning. It is updated every year or two for minor changes – everything from correcting typos, patching loopholes, addressing “unintended consequences” and the occasional mismatch, when language in one section conflicts with another.
The city identified 38 issues to be addressed in this update, said Joe LaCava, chair of the San Diego Community Planners Committee and a resident of Bird Rock. The city sends these issues for review to the Planners Committee, which represents 42 community planning groups. LaCava said the majority of the proposed changes “made sense” and were approved by the Planners Committee, but a few applied to particular communities and needed further investigation.
“For example, there was one change specific to City Heights, so we pulled that one and told the City Heights (planner and planning committee) to decide what they want to do with it,” he said. LaCava will discuss the proposed addition that affects La Jolla at the LJCPA meeting on Jan. 7.
One change could affect the practice of mansionization – when a developer builds a boxy house too large for its lot and out of conformance with the neighborhood – by offering more ways to bypass a Coastal Development Permit and community review.
Currently, if a developer wants to build a house in La Jolla, he or she needs a Coastal Development Permit, which adds tens of thousands of dollars and months to the project. Further, a builder would need to present the plans before local groups. However, the city has a “50 percent rule,” which states that on a redevelopment project, if 50 percent of the original walls remain, the project does not need a Coastal Development Permit.
“Over the years, the city has been thinking the 50 percent rule didn’t work very well,” LaCava said. “It seems like a simple rule, but it has turned into something quite confusing to the point that the city has an eight-page book on how to calculate 50 percent. … There is also some discussion about the definition of a wall (which some people have taken to mean studs), so it’s been problematic because of the interpretations people have made. The city said, let’s come up with a better rule because the 50 percent rule doesn’t address the design of the house or achieve a better outcome.”
The proposed “better rule” being considered for the Land Development Code update is called “a categorical exemption.” It states that if a house is built less than 90 percent of the allowed height and 80 percent or less of the allowed gross floor area, the project will not require a Coastal Development Permit.
“They are incentivizing building a smaller house,” LaCava said. “It doesn’t matter if the entire house is demolished or if part of it is saved, the city is saying that if you build smaller you can go straight to a building permit.”
Although the intention was to replace the 50 percent rule with the categorical exemption, both are being proposed for the upcoming Land Development Update.
La Jolla architect Phil Merten, also keeping his eye on the update, said there are two items labeled as “clarifications” that he feels are much more.
One of them, he opines, “would allow a significant increase in the size of mixed-use buildings” by changing certain regulations within La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO), or blueprint for design.
Currently, the PDO requires the front half of the ground floor in any mixed-use building to be commercial; the back half can be other use, Merten said. “If the other use is residential, it is calculated into the gross Floor-Area Ratio (FAR). But (with the clarification), if someone puts parking on the ground floor, that area will no longer be included in the calculation.”
This clarification would permit a builder to take the square footage not included in the FAR and add it to the second floor, he said, explaining, “It adds to the size of a building an area equal to half of the lot area of the site, which would be exempted from the mass and bulk of the building.”
The second clarification leaves visibility areas on street and driveway intersections up to the discretion of a city engineer. “Visibility areas are currently required, but the proposed change is to give the city engineer the ability to increase, decrease or eliminate visibility areas based on discretion,” Merten said.
After review at LJCPA, the update – including the aforementioned concerns – will be heard by the San Diego Planning Commission. Although the item has not been docketed yet, LaCava said the objective is a late January meeting.
“Depending on how it goes at the Planning Commission, it would then be heard at City Council within a month or two,” he said. “The portions that affect the coastal area will have to go to the Coastal Commission – so it won’t be signed into law in the coastal area until the Coastal Commission signs off on it. That can take upwards of a year.” ♦