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La Jolla permit reviewers propose rules to thwart abuse

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David Ish hashes out proposed changes to the Municipal Code with the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee at its July 16 meeting.
(COREY LEVITAN)

Say serial permitting, carport switcheroo taking toll on neighborhoods

The La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) Committee voted to recommend to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) two changes to the San Diego Municipal Code designed to tackle what it has long believed to be two of the biggest threats to preserving the look and feel of La Jolla’s neighborhoods: carport-to-garage conversions and serial permitting.

DPR unanimously passed a motion recommending to LJCPA that City Code define a carport as “roof and posts only,” with the posts numbering no more than four and measuring no greater than 8-inches-by-8-inches each. Such a carport may be attached to one exterior wall of the main house at most. All other structures, according to the revision, must be counted in floor-area ratio (FAR) calculations.

The revised language included the following statement: “The purpose of a carport is to provide shelter for a car, where visual impact to the neighborhood is at a minimum.”

La Jolla resident David Ish, who presented the draft version of the Code revision, said developers and City staff have used their interpretation of the current Code as a loophole to add square footage to the livable area of a house, increasing bulk and scale. He further opined that even if the permitted carports are not converted into garages immediately, subsequent owners of a house will almost always make that move — either out of ignorance or in defiance of the Code.

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“I feel like this is the right strategy,” said DPR chair Brian Will. “You’re taking away the opportunity for a lot of abuses. But you’re not taking awayThe La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) Committee voted to recommend to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) two changes to the San Diego Municipal Code designed to tackle what it has long believed to be two of the biggest threats to preserving the look and feel of La Jolla’s neighborhoods: carport-to-garage conversions and serial permitting.

DPR unanimously passed a motion recommending to LJCPA that City Code define a carport as “roof and posts only,” with the posts numbering no more than four and measuring no greater than 8-inches-by-8-inches each. Such a carport may be attached to one exterior wall of the main house at most. All other structures, according to the revision, must be counted in floor-area ratio (FAR) calculations.

The revised language included the following statement: “The purpose of a carport is to provide shelter for a car, where visual impact to the neighborhood is at a minimum.”

La Jolla resident David Ish, who presented the draft version of the Code revision, said developers and City staff have used their interpretation of the current Code as a loophole to add square footage to the livable area of a house, increasing bulk and scale. He further opined that even if the permitted carports are not converted into garages immediately, subsequent owners of a house will almost always make that move — either out of ignorance or in defiance of the Code.

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“I feel like this is the right strategy,” said DPR chair Brian Will. “You’re taking away the opportunity for a lot of abuses. But you’re not taking away the core provision of being able to put a roof over your car without building a garage. That has significantly less visual impact than a garage.”

50-percent committed

Ish then turned the committee’s attention to what is known as serial permitting and the loophole that’s encouraged it. The 50-percent rule is currently used to bypass community review and the need for a Coastal Development Permit — which can cost thousands of dollars and take years to obtain — and has led to what’s become known as “mansionization.” Under the rule, a project is classified as a “remodel” if 50 percent of the original walls are retained.

“What’s happening is these junky temporary walls are put up and that becomes the basis of the 50-percent wall,” Ish explained, “so it’s given a lot more footprint for the house that wasn’t there in the first place. The idea is to stop that.”

According to the recommended code revision, the demolition or removal of 50 percent or less of the exterior walls of existing structures is not exempt from CDPs “if the proposed application is received within five years of the final inspection of a previous 50-percent exempt remodel on the same structure.”

A subsequent remodel within five years could be allowed if 50 percent of the total original walls prior to first permit still remain and can be demonstrated.

This proposed revision also passed unanimously, with Will calling it “perfectly reasonable and exactly the intent of what a 50-percent rule is supposed to be.”

“Five or 10 years, I don’t think it matters,” he added, “as long as it’s longer than it takes to get a CDP.”

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Gates reopened and shut

Applicant’s representative Robert Bateman again presented his case for a CDP and Tentative Map to create four residential and two commercial condominium units for his client’s building, the Bird Rock Condos at 5656 La Jolla Blvd.

The project was previously approved by DPR and is currently under construction. But it was approved as apartments, and now the owner would like to convert them to condos.

Bateman returned to the committee a third time with sketches demonstrating the elevation, operation and dimensions of parking gates that the committee did not notice on the original sketches. He explained that they were roll-up gates with open slats, that they were always intended to be there, and that the interior of the garage would be open with individual parking spots delineated by painted lines.

The motion passed 4-1-1, with trustee Mike Costello opposed.

— La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday Aug. 13 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.


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