Contentious Lookout Drive projects fail to pass muster at La Jolla planners meeting

Before discussion even began on the controversial project to develop three houses on three lots on Lookout Drive at the Aug. 2 La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) meeting, trustees, the applicant and attendees were reminded to maintain civility.

LJCPA chair Bob Steck, for the first time in his tenure, opened the discussion by reading some of the oath of office all trustees agree to as part of their service: “I will fairly and impartially consider all points of view, respect all those with whom and for whom I serve.”

He explained: “I’ve received a lot of contentious e-mails on this project, so for its discussion, please put your emotions aside, and I hope the applicant does the same. Let’s just focus on the issue and whether this project complies with the rules and regulations.” (Similarly, when the project was heard at the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee, chair Dave Gordon reported receiving e-mails “one or more of which was rather accusatory and contained personal attacks.”)

The attempt at decorum led to almost two hours of discussion on a project by the same applicant to develop one, one-story single-family residence, and one, two-story single-family residence totaling 7,132 square feet on two existing vacant parcels adjacent to 7729 Lookout Drive; and one, two-story single-family residence totaling 4,070 square feet, on a vacant lot at 7729 Lookout Drive.

The board ultimately voted 9-4-1 that findings could not be made to support the project due to bulk and scale being out of character with the neighborhood, and the fact that density would exceed the average dwelling density in the area. The matter will proceed to the City for further consideration.

Island Architects founding principal Tony Crisafi, who is developing the project, provided a layout for the three houses during the meeting, and cited the measurements through which the house conforms to surrounding houses and complies with local and City building requirements.

Property owner and applicant David Mandelbaum also took the mic to try and squash some of the arguments he saw coming. He read from a pre-written statement, addressed setbacks and project density, affirmed that his lots were legally created, boasted his familiarity with local building code, and read e-mails from City staff. He also called out neighbors, the attorneys they hired to speak out against the project, and LJCPA trustees by name. He also questioned whether, given the vocal opposition to the project ahead of the meeting, the project would get a fair hearing.

“Is it possible to get an impartial vote, when two of your board members have made it clear in writing … their desire to stop this project?” he asked, adding that he was looking to correct “a few gross and deliberate misstatements” that were intended to “confuse” the board and “make it more difficult to expeditiously arrive at a fair decision on this particular project.”

He also called previous arguments made by trustees and attorneys “total fabrications.”

However, attorneys hired to speak out against the project by residents, had different interpretations.

Attorney Evelyn Heidelberg argued the residential density created by the houses on these lots would be above the average dwelling density allowed for the area. She also said the projects do not conform to those of the neighborhood based on bulk and scale.

In his frustrated rebuttal, Mandelbaum resorted to shouting, and said Heidelberg was comparing “apples to oranges.”

Land-use lawyer Deborah Rosenthal added: “Contrary to what has been presented here tonight, this development is inconsistent with the specifics and the goals of the Planned District Ordinance and therefore cannot be recommended as a development that ought to occur in this highly sensitive neighborhood.”

She said it would have negative impact on the surrounding neighbors, who have “strenuous and vehement oppositions,” and that it is “poor design” with “multiple” inconsistencies.

LJCPA trustee Diane Kane echoed: “What is being proposed is just too much; it’s stuffing a 10-pound turkey into a five-pound jar. It’s just too much for the site.”

Adding to the list of concerns, trustee Phil Merten said the lots were divided illegally and should be reconsidered. “The code is clear, the lot line adjustment that was done without a Coastal Development Permit is not valid because it violates the land development code. That is the underlying issue.”

Trustee Suzanne Weissmann said the houses seem “squeezed in” to their lots and so she couldn’t support the project.

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

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