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La Jolla Shores permitters vote down Sugarman Drive project: Project would ‘change the character of the neighborhood dramatically’

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Claude Anthony Marengo presents his renderings to the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee for a proposed house on Sugarman Drive.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

When the Sugarman House project returned to the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) meeting April 15 at La Jolla Rec Center — this time with only a handful of residents in attendance rather than a roomful — a central issue seemed to be the house’s second story: How it had been reduced to mitigate visual impact, how it differs from other second story houses in the area and whether it is actually a second story or possibly a third.

The project requires digging into the adjacent hillside, so other concerns included drainage associated with the work, how the house is situated on the hillside and the overall size of the house.

Ultimately, PRC voted that findings could not be made for the project based on the bulk and scale, and inconsistency with the surrounding houses in the area.

Applicant’s representative Claude Anthony Marengo sought a Site Development Permit for the construction of a two-story 4,980-square-foot family house with 1,217-square-foot basement garage on a vacant lot at 8356 Sugarman Drive. The overall massing was reduced from when it was initially presented last month.

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When PRC previously heard the project, residents turned out to oppose to the size, arguing it was too large for the area. In response, when presenting in April, Marengo said he stepped the second story back to reduce the impact, and would landscape around the exterior with street trees and hedges to “soften” the first story.

“Since you last saw it, the second floor has been adjusted to pull away from the front and from the side,” he said in going over his drawings and floor plans.

Some trustees said they liked the design, but it wasn’t a good fit for the area. As trustee Janie Emerson explained: “Having driven the area multiple times, there are very few two-story houses. To the south, there are 11 two-story houses that seem to have been built around the same time because they’re of a similar feel. If you go north, there are some houses I would call one-and-a-half stories because they have a second-story addition over the garage or a small addition, but not a full story.”

She opined that immediately surrounding the proposed house, there are several houses that appear to only be one story and are of similar design. “My concern,” she continued, “is that this house would change the neighborhood character dramatically because it is so different from everything else there. Even though you are camouflaging that first story, it is almost a three-story house (because of the basement and two stories.) I appreciate all the changes you’ve made, but if I lived in this neighborhood I would be really upset by this house. I like the design, it just doesn’t fit with the neighborhood.”

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However, Marengo disagreed with her statements and said recently redeveloped houses have second stories.

“Which ones?” said a voice from the audience.

Marengo continued that there were a few two-story houses with one story built into the slope and one built above ground, therefore many houses have two stories, even if you can’t see them from the street.

Emerson interjected: “If there are houses that go down the hill, I can’t see that from the street. The feel from the street is still a one-story house, which is in character with the rest of the neighborhood.”

Speaking to pre-existing concerns about the house’s size as it related to those that would surround it, one resident added that “it shouldn’t appear to be the king’s mansion overlooking the serfs.”

PRC trustee Angie Preisendorfer told Marengo: “it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen you do, but I just don’t think it fits in that spot. It’s too different.”

Marengo proceeded to ask the committee, if this was their project: “What would you recommend if you were going to add a second story to this building .... because it’s going to happen to these houses.”

Emerson said she would have added more to the basement and taken off the second floor altogether.

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After exchanging a series of hypothetical changes, the board voted 5-0-1 against the project. The vote proceeds to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for further review or PRC finding ratification.

La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee next meets (pending items to review), 4 p.m. Monday, May 20 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org


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