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La Jolla ‘mansionization’ group seeks tailored approach to home remodels

After vetting all options, La Jolla’s ad hoc committee on single family zoning (aka mansionization), voted at its Jan. 4 meeting to recommend a tailored approach to home-building in La Jolla be written into San Diego’s Municipal Code. Its parent group, La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), approved this motion at its Jan. 7 meeting.

La Jolla Community Planning Association trustee and Community Planners Committee president Joe LaCava at the Jan. 7 meeting
La Jolla Community Planning Association trustee and Community Planners Committee president Joe LaCava at the Jan. 7 meeting
(Ashley Mackin)

From here, the recommendation goes to the San Diego Planning Commission’s Jan. 28 meeting, and from there, it will be heard in February at the City of San Diego Smart Growth & Land Use committee (a sub group of the San Diego City Council) before going for a full City Council vote in March. Reflecting on the outcome, further discussion on the issue will be heard at the LJCPA’s 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org

The ad hoc committee has been meeting for the last several months to pour over suggested language found in Item No. 9 of the city’s next Land Development Code update that addresses mansionization (building a home too large for its lot and out of character with the neighborhood) and to form a recommendation for LJCPA.

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“The current blanket zoning requirements are not working in parts of La Jolla,” said ad hoc committee member Diane Kane. “They work well in other areas, but in other places they don’t. What we’re trying to do is fine-tune the rules after we’ve had a chance to look at them. We’re trying to figure out of there is something we can do so we get what we thought we were going to get (during previous coding).”

Ad hoc committee on single family zoning (aka mansionization) members Diane Kane and Angeles Leira at the board’s Jan. 4 meeting
Ad hoc committee on single family zoning (aka mansionization) members Diane Kane and Angeles Leira at the board’s Jan. 4 meeting
(Ashley Mackin)

The city updates its Land Development Code every year or two to address conflicts, typos or make changes as needed. Item No. 9 reads: “Create a new exemption from the requirement to obtain a Coastal Development Permit for certain single dwelling unit development and demolition of existing structures if the development … (is) located on a single lot zoned for single dwelling unit residential and must comply with 90 percent of the applicable height and 80 percent of the applicable floor area permitted by the underlying base zone in order to be eligible for the permit exemption.”

Currently, a project may bypass a coastal development permit (and the tens of thousands of dollars that come with it) if it retains 50 percent of its original walls. However, some developers have found loopholes to the rule, to the point there is now an eight-page document outlining how to calculate 50 percent.

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But should Item No. 9 be approved, and join the “50 percent rule” in the Land Development Code, a project could skip a coastal development permit should it meet the height limitations. The ad hoc committee explored what a house might look like if built in accordance with the city’s recommendation found within Item NO. 9 through schematic drawings, labeled “Alternative A,” along with other alternatives presented by committee member Angeles Leira. Other alternatives included 80 percent of the height and 80 percent of the allowable floor area, and alternatives for home additions. However, none addressed community character or garnered favor with architects and developers in attendance.

“This would just give us small, bad architecture,” Kane said, adding “Alternative A includes language that is similar to what is already being done – 90 percent of the allowable height and 80 percent of the floor area – so my concern is whether this is any better than what is out there today.”

Generally not in favor of the alternatives, Kane presented the results of her research on the City of Coronado’s Land Development Code as another avenue. Coronado has a “bonus point system” the committee explored to see if such could be applied to La Jolla.

“In Coronado, the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) wavers between .4 and .6 with the opportunity for bonus points, to allow for a larger FAR,” she said. For example, an applicant can earn bonus points to increase the FAR if the plans are drawn up by a licensed architect and presented to local community advisory groups, and if windows don’t align with neighbors.

“The code also has disincentives – such as building too similar to neighboring buildings,” she said. “What they are trying to do there is deter speculative builders with one design plan from building one after the other after the other. I’m suggesting we look at what they did and use (the code) and look at incentives and disincentives, which we can develop for us in La Jolla so we get something better than what we have now.”

When asked what the incentives would be, Kane said, “That is what we need to develop. That’s why we are here.” However, facing a deadline before the SDPC reviews the item, the ad hoc committee made its recommendation to set aside the proposed language and hold off on having the city adopt it.

When heard – and approved – at LJCPA’s Jan. 7 meeting, trustee Joe LaCava presented a motion he “wordsmithed a tiny bit,” but had the blessing of ad hoc committee members. The motion suggests the City of San Diego suspend action on Item No. 9 of the 10th Land Development Code. “A one-year suspension will allow the community of La Jolla and other coastal communities to craft tailored criteria for coastal residential development overlay zone, with ministerial processing (going straight to building permit) for single-family residents,” he read. “The adoption of this overlay zone could replace the CDP process for those projects that comply with the criteria of the zone, enabling regulatory relief from the existing costly and time consuming discretionary process while more effectively implementing the La Jolla Community and Coastal Development Plan.”

LaCava argued this approach would be more comprehensive at addressing the issues and problems observed. In critiquing the motion, CPA trustee Jim Fitzgerald said he was worried about developers rushing to get a permit before the rules get stricter. “Like little bunnies in heat, I could just see a flood of permits to get development done before anything (restrictive) is added or changed.” ♦

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