City Commissioners say hold off on mansionization code

Much to the relief of the La Jolla ad hoc committee on residential single-family zoning (aka mansionization), the San Diego Planning Commission voted Jan. 28 to postpone adoption of city language on development in coastal communities, pending further review.

On the table for Commissioners’ consideration were items City of San Diego Planners recommended be included in the next land development code update, which occurs every year or two to clean up typos and/or address conflicting language. Of the more than 30 items, few merited discussion.

One proposal that did was Item No. 9, which offers another way for developers to avoid a costly and time-consuming Coastal Development Permit (CDP). 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.”

Posed as a benefit to development, project manager Amanda Lee of the City Development Service Department said the exemption would “facilitate house building in the coastal zone” by offering a bypass to a coastal development permit and there was “great support for the new permitting system.”

However, La Jolla’s ad hoc committee on mansionization has criticized this language. Rather than producing houses in line with the character, bulk and scale of the surrounding area, committee members argue, it would actually yield “small, bad architecture.”

During public comment, ad hoc committee chair Sharon Wampler asked the Commissioners not to adopt the new system. “Our committee formed in response to concern by community members about bulk and scale and development that was out of alignment with the current, existing La Jolla Community Plan,” she said. “I understand efficiency and cost effectiveness are very important, but there is also the quality aspect. You want to maintain the best balance between them without sacrificing any of the others. We had concern with Item No. 9 going forward as is. In light of development patterns, it was deemed prudent to adjust the proposed language.”

Wampler instead urged the Commissioners adopt a motion made by her committee (and approved by its parent group La Jolla Community Planning Association), which recommends the city suspend action on the item for one year.

The motion reads: “A one-year suspension will allow La Jolla and other coastal communities to craft tailored criteria for coastal residential development overlay zone, with ministerial processing (bypassing a CDP) for single-family residents. 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.”

Opposed to the one-year continuation, Commissioner Stephen Haase said, “The exemption as it was originally conceived was to provide an incentive to property owners that built smaller, who didn’t try to squeeze every inch out of the height, every hundredth of a percent out of the FAR. There was a lot of merit to that. This would provide an incentive for people to not have to go through a discretionary permit and appeals in the time … by doing nothing, we are back to where we started. The exemption is long overdue.”

Commissioner Susan Peerson said, “I’m in favor of an exemption process and I don’t want to see extensive or excessive changes to respond to bad actors. I’m not in favor of excess overlay zones and special permits.”

In favor of the ad hoc committee’s recommendation, Commissioner Theresa Quiroz said, “We have seen so many projects come from La Jolla where we would have loved to been able to help out, but couldn’t because the rules didn’t allow us to. So I don’t think a request for one year is too much to ask, they deserve that much.”

From a logistical standpoint, architect and Planning Commission Chair Tim Golba posed questions with several scenarios that illustrated how complicated and “unimaginable” the new language would be for developers. Arguing the “baby is being thrown out with the bathwater with this language,” Golba added, “I don’t see any regulatory relief to it. I would prefer we pull the item, further analyze it and come back after the planning groups have had a chance to vet it. It’s premature to send that forward at this point.”

Agreeing, Quiroz moved the Planning Commission approve staff recommendations on the land development update with the amendment that Item No. 9 be removed and put forward as a separate item after further evaluation. Other items up for review pertaining to other neighborhoods were also amended.

Wampler said she was pleased with the Planning Commissions decision. “Our ad hoc committee has been working with the community to develop a proposal that would be simple for city staff to implement, would save time and money for homeowners and builders, and would preserve the quality of life and unique character in coastal neighborhoods, which is valued by both residents and visitors to our fine city.

“It is important that communities have the time to review and provide input. The quality of life and unique character of our coastal communities lies in the balance. ... We are grateful the commissioners are putting their confidence in the La Jolla community to work collaboratively. While there is a sense of urgency, it is important to implement a process that will work for both the short-term and the long-term.”

On Feb. 10, the Planning Commission’s recommendation will be presented to the Smart Growth & Land Use sub-committee of the San Diego City Council, and then in March to the full City Council.

Discussion of the recommendation was also on the docket of the Feb. 4 La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting. Read about the action in next week’s La Jolla Light.