La Jolla developers set precedent, issuing findings with no applicant or rep present

Phil Merten presents the opposing side to a project whose applicant he claimed intends to ignore the community-input process.

Nothing less than the worth of the community-input process itself was reviewed at the Jan. 15 La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) meeting at the Rec Center.

During the meeting, DPR voted unanimously against a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and Site Development Permit (SDP) for a proposal called the Bonair Townhomes at 744 Bonair St., which it previously reviewed on Feb. 13, 2018. DPR found the project “inconsistent with the (La Jolla) Community Plan with respect to neighborhood scale and character, and inconsistent with four sections of the San Diego Municipal Code.”

According to the motion, DPR also found the project not in compliance with land-development code and, as a result, a California Environmental Quality Act exception it had already acquired “does not apply and should be appealed by the La Jolla Community Planning Association.”

A bigger story than this finding, however, was how it was issued — in the absence of the permit applicant or a representative. Longtime DPR trustee Jim Ragsdale said he couldn’t recall a review ever proceeding that way.

In lieu of attending, the applicant’s architect, Joshua Kordasiewicz of Axon Architecture, sent DPR an e-mail stating a litany of changes made to correct setbacks, elevations and other issues following the Feb. 13 DPR meeting and a separate meeting with neighbors.

Acting DPR chair Mike Costello — filling in for Brian Will — noted that this served primarily to demonstrate that the applicant “clearly understood that we would be hearing this project, and he could have requested a continuance.”

Costello urged the DPR vote, stating that “if we don’t do something now, we may never get anything on record as approving or denying the project.” He noted that the deadline to appeal the categorical exemption was only days away.

Costello stated that he was concerned because La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) trustee Phil Merten — who presented an hour-long explanation of problems with the Bonair Townhomes Project as a representative of its neighbors, the Davidsons — claimed that “the applicant told the Planning Association president that they’re going forward without a Planning Association recommendation.”

Kane seized upon this awkward moment to announce a new investigation she’s conducting — with assistance from several UC San Diego interns — “to help us track how many times the City pays no attention to what we do, so we can then have evidence of the failure of the community-input process, because clearly, it’s making no dent whatsoever.”

The Light reached out to Kordasiewicz for comment, and received an e-mail response from Axon Architecture principal Alana Barber, which stated that “despite our desire to appease the concerns raised in this matter, we have been met with systematic opposition by a trustee of the LJCPA concerning this alleged dispute.” The e-mail criticized Merten for having a conflict of interest “since Mr. Merten personally gains from the project’s delay.” It stated that Merten “makes incorrect code interpretations and inaccurately represents that violations exists.”

“Not only have we met all City requiements,” the e-mail stated, “but we have also attempted in good faith to attend other discretionary meetings in the hope of resolving any perceived disputes.”

Gillisipie School rep Joe LaCava presents a rendering of how the school would like to remodel commercial property it owns next door on Girard Avenue.

Gillispie expounds on expansion

The Gillispie School, represented by Joe LaCava, presented its case for a change in use and CDP amendment to convert two commercial buildings it owns at 7420-7426 Girard Ave. to school use, and to merge their parking lots with Gillispie’s.

The project was presented to the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (PDO) committee a day earlier, and received a finding of inconsistent from DPR. LaCava explained that changing the allowed use from retail to education introduced landscaping requirements that this project just couldn’t meet.

“We’ve attempted to introduce as much new landscaping as possible, but we can’t meet their requirements,” LaCava said. “We expected that. We knew that going in.”

LaCava showed renderings of what he called the Gillispie School Annex, noting that its remodel will remove four retail doors and install three trees on the sidewalk out front.

Kane objected that the school’s expansion was “being done incrementally and cobbled together,” adding that “what I want to see is the bigger picture.”

Trustee Matthew Welsh objected to the elimination of a longtime passageway through the property from Girard to Fay avenues, which LaCava said would be fenced off.

“It’s a challenge to balance between that and security concerns,” LaCava explained.

LaCava was asked to return with an eye toward keeping the passage open.

— DPR next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St