Permitters draw line in Hillside Drive sand: Patient, new-build applicant agrees to another meeting in La Jolla

There was tension in the room as structural engineer Hamid Liaghat laid out his fifth presentation in six months to the La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) committee about the dream house he wants to build for himself directly north and adjacent to 7520 Hillside Drive. Lots of deep breaths, scowling faces and tongue clicks emanated from the packed public seating section, along with one or two questions fired off before public comment was allowed.

Hillside Drive — a narrow mountain road with barely enough room for two BMWs to pass each other safely — has become the line in the sand for the battle against construction traffic in La Jolla. In fact, at times during the Feb. 13 meeting at the Rec Center, it seemed as if Liaghat was seeking permission to build at Scripps Park.

“What you need to do is come in and think, for each phase of work, where are your people going to be … on the street?” architect Philip A. Merten challenged Liaghat. “I had hoped you would have brought your contractor today to explain, during the grading phase, where is your crew going to park? These aren’t just cars. They’re F-150, F-250 and F-350 pickups.”

“I have nothing against you,” added Hillside Drive resident Kianoosh Radsan. “In fact, you are my countryman. I love you. But those trucks are really driving me nuts. It is a nightmare. I have to sit outside with my shotgun and tell him not to park of my home.” (Radsan immediately amended his statement with: “I don’t have a shotgun, I use a broom.”)

Incomplete MND

Although previously approved by DPR and forwarded to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for its ratification, the LJCPA felt that the City’s mitigated negative declaration (MND) — a document describing a project’s environmental impacts — was incomplete because it did not address all the concerns raised by residents.

“They’ve been processing everything one project at a time, out of context,” said DPR committee member Diane Kane. “(The City is) not looking at the cumulative impact to the neighborhood. This is part of the environmental process. It is against the law to completely ignore cumulative impacts when they’re there.”

Liaghat’s position, which he calmly stated once again, is that his house will be set back 95 feet, whereas many neighbors set back only 15 feet. That means, unlike other houses, his will have ample space for construction parking and staging, leaving no vehicles parked on the street. Furthermore, Liaghat claims, he won’t have 50 or 60 laborers at the same time, but only five or six, which he will shuttle to wherever their cars are parked. “At any given time, there will be not a single car from my construction project on the street,” Liaghat said.

DPR chair Brian Will described the situation to Liaghat, stating: “I understand what you’ve been asked is not what any other construction project on Hillside Drive has been asked, but this is the time you’ve chosen on this street, and you’ve chosen to build at a time when the people on this street are suffering.”

DPR committee member and former chair, Mike Costello, went further, admonishing his committee members for being so difficult.

“I would like to caution people,” Costello said. “Hamid is being a really nice guy in listening to us, and he’s putting up with more than other people would. I would say, ask for what you can, ask for what’s reasonable, because if this goes straight down to the City, you’ll get nothing. The City will not put itself in a position where it’s going to get sued for applying standards to one person that it hasn’t applied to anyone else.

“So be nice to a nice guy,” Costello said.

A possible mitigation was suggested by Radsan in the form of a neighbor’s driveway, which could provide even more parking for the project. When Liaghat replied that it was a private road, Radsan shot back: “This is San Diego. You can buy anything.”

Will instructed Liaghat to return with a plan that is broader in scope than the site plan he submitted, and to ask the owners of that driveway if he can rent it.

“The community would be very happy,” Will said. (Radsan added: “I can come with you, with my broomstick.”)

Townhome project

Also at the meeting, Josh Kordasiewicz, principal of Axon Architecture, presented for preliminary review his renderings for the proposed Bonair Townhomes at 744 Bonair St., owned by a “Mr. Weinberg.”

The audience had shrunk by two-thirds after Liaghat’s presentation. However, it was equally angry and vocal. Objections were raised to, among other things, the size of the two buildings included in the project, whether they fit the character of the neighborhood and a wingwall that violates the 45-foot roof height and the size of a roof deck.

Many of the objections were raised by Merten, who was hired by neighbor Larry Davidson to identify the problems with the proposal to DPR.

“Josh, would you go back and show us that color photo that you have?” Merten asked. “Josh, if you could go back to the previous section, in the plan set on the office, there are no windows above these doors.”

When asked why he had disguised carports as garages, Kordasiewicz answered: “to exempt that area from the FAR (floor area ratio).”

This stunned the committee, and member Beth Gaenzle replied: “At least you’re being honest about it.”

Costello suggested that Kordasiewicz convert the carports into garages and include them in the FAR, remove some second-level living space and — calling him out for presenting two projects for one permit — bring the two buildings together.

“We’ve been tricked so many times before,” Costello said. “You’re not going to sell these to separate people?”

Costello said he views the project as “many missed opportunities to cooperate with the neighborhood.” He explained: “It’ll cost you and your client nothing to give back some view to the neighbors and reduce the building height a little ... You’re just taking away views in a senseless manner and, the exact opposite of Hamid before you, you’re just not being a nice guy, and you’re missing that.”

Will had a laundry list of requests for Kordasiewicz to return with answers to, but the answer to one question was paramount: “Is there a lot split or is there no plan for a lot split? Come back to us, tell us what you really want and we’ll review it all.” Will added: “We’re not fans of segmented permits.”

— DPR next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 13 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St., Room 1.

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