Mansionization group finishes work with La Jolla Community Planning Association

The sun has set on the ad-hoc committee on single-family residential zoning (aka mansionization) as a sub-committee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), but the group will continue to work independently to develop a set of tailored building criteria for La Jolla. Committee chair Sharon Wampler provided a final report of its findings at LJCPA’s Feb. 4 meeting at the Rec Center.

Formed in May 2015, Wampler said the ad-hoc committee met regularly to “scope issues related to incompatible new single-family construction in existing neighborhoods through public meetings. We worked to develop feasible strategies to reconcile current city zoning with La Jolla Community Plan and consider what is feasible to implement at the city and a simple administrative systems that balance property rights with community concerns.”

Concurrently, the City of San Diego was drafting language to address the issue in the 10th update to its Land Development Code, identified as Item No. 9. The committee investigated what other cities have done to deter mansionization — building a house too large for its lot and out of character with the neighborhood — and explored the feasibility of Item No. 9.

The item offers another way for developers to avoid a costly and time-consuming Coastal Development Permit. It 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.”

Finding the city language ineffective at solving the problem, the ad-hoc committee ultimately recommended suspending action on Item No. 9 in favor of the creation of a coastal overlay zone with tailored criteria for coastal residential development.

The San Diego Planning Commission was slated to hear the city’s recommendation in late January, prompting a deadline for the ad-hoc committee to produce a report. Although the San Diego Planning Commission voted to hear the coastal development language at another time pending further review, the proposed language will still be heard at the San Diego Smart Growth and Land Use committee and then the San Diego City Council.

Because of the deadline, Wampler said the committee had to submit their report sooner than they would have liked, and did not feel their work was complete. With more time, they could craft the tailored criteria and circulate it for community consensus.

“It’s the work that matters … our preference would be to continue the work to completion, either as a sub-committee or as an independent group with a liaison to the LJCPA,” she said.

In support, LJCPA trustee Fran Zimmerman said, “By being an ad-hoc committee of the LJCPA, they have been subject to restrictions and the Brown Act. … But what they are trying to do is reign in runaway remodels and their work is not done.”

Added LJCPA president Cindy Greatrex, “Sub-committees are good, but there are a lot of strings any time you are attached to a (city) advisory group, but there is always the opportunity for any group of any purview to be independent of a planning group.”

LJCPA trustee and ad-hoc committee Jim Ragsdale said lifting the constraints of an ad-hoc committee could help because the committee could solicit participation from Bird Rock Community Council, La Jolla Town Council, Development Permit Review committee and any other interested parties. Further, the tailored criteria, once complete, could be better disseminated and yield a more complete community consensus.

Uniform agreement on the building criteria, argued LJCPA second vice president Joe LaCava, is the only way to spur “real change” at City Hall. “There is no doubt in my mind that this problem is real. … But the only way we’re going to get real change is building community consensus and present it as a package to City Hall with a pretty red bow and say we all agree on this.”

As such, LaCava moved to thank the ad-hoc committee for their efforts, accept the report and ask they continue their work as an independent committee with a delegate to LJCPA. The motion carried 10-4-1.

Other Land Development issues

The issue of mansionization (Item No. 9) was not the only proposed change to the Land Development Code LJCPA members discussed at its monthly meeting. Architect and LJCPA trustee candidate Phil Merten presented on Items No. 24 and 26, which address visibility and calculation of Floor Area Ratio, respectively.

Regarding calculation of Floor Area Ratio, he explained, “Currently, the Land Development Code says if you have residential space, and an open area underneath that space … it has to be calculated into the gross floor area. For example, if you have an open parking space under that residential area, that parking area is calculated into the gross floor area. The code change is to not count that area. When you don’t calculate that area … it is going to change the appearance and the bulk and size of mixed-use buildings. The buildings are going to get bigger and bulkier as a result.”

Following the presentation, LJCPA voted to oppose the recommended change, 10-1-1.

Second, regarding visibility areas, Merten said, “At street intersections and where driveways enter streets, vehicles should have a good line of sight so they do not run into pedestrians on the sidewalk or back unsafely into traffic. Those requirements are codified right now. The code change allows the city engineer to modify those requirements — to increase the, decrease them or eliminate them as they see fit.”

LJCPA voted to oppose the second proposed change and suggest the city continue with current coding.

— La Jolla Community Planning Association meets 6 p.m. first Thursdays at La Jolla rec Center, 615 Prospect St.