La Jolla Community Planners still undecided on Calle del Cielo project

Once again, the Calle del Cielo project to create eight lots in La Jolla Shores (and build a house on each lot) took center stage at the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) meeting. And once again, after nearly two hours of discussion and questions, Aug. 3 at the La Jolla Recreation Center, the board decided it could not vote to approve nor deny the project.

At issue is a lack of assurance that Substantial Conformance Review would be carried out by the City and missing documentation proving outstanding issues were resolved (provided by the applicant).

The applicants agreed to return to a future meeting, and it was suggested that when they do, they bring the documentation needed.

Applicants for the development (to be made by subdividing a 4.45-acre site at 8280 Calle del Cielo in La Jolla Shores) seek to create eight lots with private drive and common improvements for drainage and stormwater management, and the subsequent construction of eight, new single-family dwelling units with attached garages.

The project includes design renderings and guidelines to which the houses could be built. However, the applicants are selling the lots themselves and the houses would be constructed when the buyers are found. The project encourages buyers to build the houses as presented because each comes with a Coastal Development Permit saving the buyer thousands of dollars and the years it would take to independently apply for the permit.

Designer Louis Beacham, representing the team that purchased and is developing the property, told the board, “We have made a great effort to listen to community planning groups and build a project we can all be proud of that is a win-win for the community. … We have come up with changes to the project that turned out to be beneficial. We want the issues you are concerned about to be addressed.”

The proposal was heard at least three times at the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC), which ultimately determined that findings could not be made to support the project.

When heard at the July LJCPA meeting, the trustees had questions about drainage, outstanding unresolved City issues and residents’ concerns. The other looming issues are: When it comes down to houses being built, would the City hold a Substantial Compliance Review (SCR) to ensure the house designs do not deviate from those presented, and whether the houses would be an improvement to The Shores area (the lot is now predominantly vacant open space).

Design architect Paul Benton gave an overview of the project covering setbacks, walls added to decrease noise and light impacts, and changes to the design. He also enumerated the concerns presented by surrounding residents and the steps that have been taken to ease those concerns.

Addressing ongoing drainage concerns, engineer Tony Christensen pointed out that in previous designs, some of the drainage went to La Jolla Shores Drive (an area subject to flooding), but now would funnel 93 percent of runoff from the drains near Calle del Cielo and Calle de Oro.

“Now, only 7 percent of runoff will go down to La Jolla Shores Drive, and about one-third of that 7 percent comes from a property that is off site, so it’s a vast improvement over what is there now.”

Substantial Conformance Review

Continuing discussion from previous meetings, several board members noted they do not trust the City to carry out a SCR to determine if a house, when ready for construction, is in line with what the community reviewed.

Land-use Attorney Scott Williams explained, “It is not unusual for a project proponent, after they have received a permit, to seek to modify it in some way. The question they face is, ‘I’ve spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars getting this project approved, do I have to do it all over again?’ It depends. That’s what SCR is all about. The core issue is, will your modified project substantially conform to the approved project? If it does, you do not need a formal amendment to your permit. If it does not, you need to go through the review process again.”

For projects carried out in the City’s Coastal Zone (La Jolla), SCR is conducted pursuant to Process Two. That means City staff must provide notice to community planning groups and residents before it makes any recommendations.

LJCPA trustee Janie Emerson commented, “We’re all on the same page, it’s the people downtown who are not on the same page with us. Their opinion as to whether something is in conformance might differ from ours.”

But Benton presented the Design Guidelines for the development that would be submitted to the City with the permit, and said any deviation from the guidelines would be considered out of conformance. These include: “any alteration of the architectural forms, materials, colors or finishes of the approved design concept as presented, any decrease to the approved building setbacks for each lot and increases to the approved gross floor area for each lot.”

As such, Williams said the Design Guidelines do not give the City any discretion to decide whether something is in or out of conformance.

Nevertheless, trustee Ray Weiss opined, “The overriding consideration here is whether we have any faith in SCR. This is a project that won’t be built by the people who are proposing it. They are going to sell the plans, sell the lots, and then we are depending on substantial conformance. I don’t have the feeling that the issue has really been addressed. We want additional assurances with legal force behind them and we haven’t received that.”

Weiss went on to call himself a “victim of substantial conformance” because a house built in his neighborhood presented and approved as one style house of a certain size, had the project sold and the house build significantly larger. “It passed under substantial conformance. Nothing came to the neighbors, it was not discussed by this body, despite being in the Coastal Zone. The City is not following its own rules.”

San Diego Community Planner Marlon Pangilinan, a regular LJCPA attendee, responded, “The concern here is that there is mistrust. But there is nothing I can do about that to change your mind. I see the process working, but if you don’t trust that, there is nothing I can do.”

Hoping to offer a personal guarantee, Benton said he would return to LJCPA when the permits have been filed and provide the board with all the confirmed details.

Still other issues with the project included the extent of community outreach, and the concern that the development is not consistent with the character of surrounding homes.

One resident posed: “Do you want to take the charming community that is La Jolla Shores and allow these mansions to be imposed? It will lead to an entirely different environment from what is there today.”

There are other outstanding, unresolved issues that applicants say have been documented as resolved or addressed. As such, the committee said they would like to see more documentation from the City, and “further assurance” that SCR would take place. Without this information, the board decided to postpone a vote until a future meeting.

In other LJPCA news:

Board election: Two candidates announced intentions to run for the one vacant LJCPA board seat, which became available when former president Cindy Greatrex missed three meetings and had to abdicate her position. The election will be held 3-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14 at La Jolla Rec Center.

The candidates are Matt Mangano of Bird Rock and Greatrex. Mangano said he is a structural engineer with Patterson Engineering. “I have a lot to offer this committee in terms of my knowledge of coastal development code,” he said.

Greatrex was not in attendance, but submitted a statement that read: “My ongoing interest in land use is focused on thoughtful development that maintains community character and enhances quality of life.” Greatrex has been a member or chair of several advisory groups in La Jolla, including LJCPA, La Jolla Town Council, La Jolla Parks & Beaches and La Jolla Park & Rec, Inc.

Shrubbery: In what he jokingly called his “monthly statement,” trustee Weiss again complained of shrubbery growing along a fence parallel to Torrey Pines Road that has not been trimmed and is blocking views. After discussing the issue at the June meeting (when the board voted to keep the shrubs trimmed to four feet to protect ocean views), some residents on the other side of the fence have trimmed the shrubs, while others have not.

“They are thumbing their noses at us,” Weiss said. “The shrubbery in question is, at its highest, probably 10 or 12 feet. I am going to keep saying this until something gets done.” A letter has also been sent to the City asking for increased maintenance.

— La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.