76 station proposal lights gas fire at La Jolla permit review meeting

Architect Charles Brinton and La Jolla builder Russ Murfey, left, face 19 concerned neighbors at the Nov. 12 La Jolla Development Permit Reviewers meeting at the Rec Center.

Nineteen neighbors packed a small meeting room at the Rec Center for the La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) committee meeting on Nov. 12. They came to question and protest the second project proposed for the former 76 Unocal Station at 801 Pearl St. It was a bigger community response than for any project in recent years — and it was only a preliminary review.

Owner David Bourne, who purchased the property earlier this year from Mark Conger, seeks a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to demolish and clear the gas station and build a 20,595-square foot, two-story mixed-use building consisting of 26 residential and two retail units with 21 parking spaces. Different plans for the site — approved by the City in 2016 — provided 12 condo units with underground parking.

Parking was a major issue to the neighbors. If up to 34 people are going to live in this building, several wondered, and they have to share parking with two retail tenants, how can only 21 spaces possibly suffice?

“Eads is being eaten up with parking from all over the place, and this is just going to exacerbate the situation,” said neighbor Colin Wallace.

The project’s effect on traffic was similarly hot-button.

“I have two small children I walk every day,” said neighbor Christina Amoroso. “I’ve seen four accidents in a year-and-a-half, and I’ve been very close to being hit probably 20 times in that intersection. I don’t know what’s going on there, but my hypothesis is that there’s just too much going on.”

Finally, when Bourne mentioned that the units would come furnished, so big couches wouldn’t have to be finagled around its tight stairwells, many neighbors took this as a tacit admission that the building was destined to become a short-term vacation rental.

Even two trustees expressed that concern. Greg Jackson commented: “If I worked for Airbnb and saw this project going up, I’d be salivating.”

Trustee Mike Costello asked Bourne if he would agree to write, on the title exhibit presented for City approval, a declaration promising no rentals for under 30 days. (Bourne’s reply, “We’re not required to do that, though,” did nothing to allay the neighbor’s fears.)

Trustee Diane Kane was clearly impressed by the proposal as is, however, and praised Bourne for addressing California’s shortage of affordable housing in such an attractive and unconventional way.

“I think you’ve done an excellent job coming up with a way to add density,” she told the La Jolla developer. “The reality is that we have to be doing something different. And it’s multi-pronged. It’s not any one solution that’s going to do it. The question I have is, why is it not being built? And I think what we have here is someone who’s willing to take a risk and build it, and give us something we don’t have, in a very nice building, in a very good location.”

The mixed-use project proposed by La Jolla developer David Bourne for the former 76 gas station at 801 Pearl St. features 26 apartments, two retail spaces and 21 internal parking spaces, pictured in this architect’s rendering.

What began as a boilerplate showdown between developers and neighbors also took some unexpected turns. The neighbors and Bourne both took the same stance, for instance, on the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance’s (PDO) requirement that all new residential projects in commercial zones include some retail space.

“If I had my way,” Bourne said, “there wouldn’t be any commercial.” And the neighbors agreed: La Jolla does not need any more retail space when so much of its existing stock is vacant.

“We’ve been fighting that battle for 15 years,” Costello said, to which Kane replied by inquiring whether Bourne could apply for a variance from the PDO. (No one was sure.)

DPR chair Brian Will then veered the discussion into a wider contemplation on how any municipality can be expected to prepare for a future with so many unknown variables.

“There are a lot of issues that are all circling around one another,” he said. “One is that retail in La Jolla is suffering. Well, having more residents in The Village helps retail in The Village. And there is going to be a paradigm shift. We are not going to be driving and parking our own personal cars. It’s coming someday – whether it’s coming during the useful lifetime of this building, I can’t answer that question. And if we want to think about the future of La Jolla, we have to think about who’s going to patronize the businesses that we want to bring back to La Jolla.”

Will clarified that he’s “not talking about ugly T-shirt stands,” but core retail outlets that can define a community. “There used to be a bakery, there used to be Burns Drugs, there used to be, there used to be,” he said.

Among other things, Bourne and his presenting team — architect Charles Brinton with AVRP Studios and La Jolla builder Russ Murfey of the Murfey Company — were asked to conduct a traffic study of the intersection of Eads Avenue and Pearl Street, to produce a cross sectional drawing of how the building will appear relative to neighboring structures, and to “consider adding to the title sheet that you will not do short-term rentals” before the committee votes on whether to recommend the CDP.

The team was also asked to “think about how we can help you eliminate the retail requirement.”

Also at DPR

643 Bonair approved: The committee voted 5-0-2 to recommend a CDP for a new, 474-square foot companion unit at 643 Bonair St., a project it last saw on Sept. 10.

— La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.