Mansionization committee hears new ideas for La Jolla

The Ad-Hoc Committee formed to address “mansionization” in La Jolla (when a developer builds a house too large for its lot and out of character with the surrounding homes) had its seventh meeting Nov. 16 at La Jolla Rec Center. But the meeting took a quizzical turn when the board was introduced to a building code used in Coronado, which relies on a point system that allows builders to construct a large house, in exchange for using community-pleasing features.

Hoping to find a solution to the manzionization practice, the committee has been reviewing the City of San Diego’s proposed “categorical exclusions,” slated for inclusion in the next update to the Land Development Code.

The draft language suggests that if a house is built to 90 percent of the maximum allowable height of 30 feet, and 80 percent of the lot’s Floor-Area Ratio (FAR) — or the size of a structure relative to the size of its lot — the project would be exempt from needing a Coastal Development Permit. The categorical exclusions and the notorious “50 percent rule,” which exempts a project if 50 percent of the original walls remain, are both being considered for inclusion in the Land Development Code update. The proposed revision will be presented to the San Diego Planning Commission in early 2016, and then to the City Council and Coastal Commission. Whether the terms of the categorical exclusions were subject to revision was not known at the meeting.

As an informational item, committee member Angeles Leira presented for review, alternatives to the proposed FAR standards, such as building to 70 percent of the FAR and 70 percent of the height, and alternative rules for additions to a property.

Architects Tim Golba and Ione Stiegler were in attendance and opined that just because building limitations are smaller, does not mean a house would earn community favor. “I can take every one of these scenarios and draw a building that would make everybody vomit when they drive by it, and it would get built without ever seeing a Coastal Development Permit,” Golba said.

Stiegler added that in Mission Beach, the community presented building perimeters, and to meet them, houses that were boxy and out of character were built. “I would hate to see (houses that match a) cookie-cutter model ending up being built around La Jolla,” she said.

As an alternative, Golba explained there is a building code in Coronado that uses a point system. By incorporating community-pleasing features, developers may earn enough points to increase their permissible FAR. “Their point system is fairly idiot-proof. … There are 30 to 40 different items with which you can get points (including) landscaping, bulk and scale, community character, and architectural features,” he said, adding he is designing a home in Coronado and to build a larger home on the same sized lot, he took advantage of some of the bonuses.

“You earn points through installing things like shade trees, or an overhang, or using architectural details (similar to surrounding homes), or if making sure the windows don’t align with the neighbors. But you get the most points if you match the community character of that block,” he said. “If you drive through Coronado, they are in a building boom that makes Bird Rock look deserted. But there is a high quality because everyone wants that incentive.”

Golba noted Coronado is similar to La Jolla in that it is a coastal area and tightly packed in a small geographic area. As such, he theorized the City of San Diego would be amenable to the Coronado system, “as long as the burden is on the applicant.”

Joe LaCava, chair of the city-wide community planners group, agreed the city would be willing, as La Jollans as a whole support the proposal. “The city wants us to write it, not just agree (to one proposal) but actually draft it so we can hand it to them in a pretty package,” he said.

Although Golba was credited with giving the committee “a whole new avenue to explore,” several members said they needed more time to thoroughly investigate the issue. The group decided to further look into the Coronado code and how it could be translated to La Jolla, as well as the flexibility of the proposed language for the Land Development Code update. The discussion will be revisited at the next meeting.

The mansionization ad-hoc committee next meets 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.