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Permit-reviewers OK condo building on La Jolla parking lot

Top: 7600 Herschel Drive is half of a 44-space parking lot next to True Beauty aesthetic surgery center. Bottom: The owner of the property proposes to develop the plot for a four-unit condominium in this artist’s rendering.
(Corey Levitan Photo / Courtesy Rendering)

The La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) voted 3-1-1 on Jan. 21 to recommend a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and Tentative Map Waiver for the construction of a 14,817-square-foot condominium building on a 22-space parking lot at 7600 Herschel Ave.

Applicant’s rep Richard Gombes produced everything asked of him at the Jan. 14 DPR meeting, including a letter from the Chase Bank next to the lot indicating the branch will have adequate parking even with the lot removed. (He said that Chase has known for three years that the property was subject to development.)

Neighbors in attendance argued that this would be a lynchpin in La Jolla’s conversion from a village to something less-than.

“My great aunt lived on Fern Glen and took us by there to show us what the future would look like in the 1960s,” said Lisa Morgan-Kostner, owner of the mirror-image 22-space lot adjoining the proposed construction site. “It was a charming community and I believe that this project will take the charm out of our community.”

Added Lynda Cristel, who owns the cottage to the south housing the True Beauty aesthetic surgery center: “No one but a developer can afford to buy Village property any longer. Each property will be built out to the property line, creating a wall of buildings similar to those in an urban setting.”

Committee members were sympathetic but unswayed.

“This block is not charming to me,” said trustee Greg Jackson. “It’s a mish-mosh of architecture. This is a concentrated block and I’m feeling like the cottage almost belongs somewhere else. I wish the condo building was shorter, but it feels like the right thing.”

The lone dissenter was trustee Angeles Liera, who said the building was too bulky and questioned its penthouse, which functions as a third story on a block with no other third stories.

“Removing the penthouse would be better,” she said.

Chair Brian Will clarified that zone regulations limit construction to two stories, but noted the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance allows for penthouses, limited to a certain square footage that this property complies with.

“I don’t know a better way to accommodate a historic cottage and prepare for the inevitable — where everything else is a tilt-up wall on the property line,” Will said. “But if we want the retail to survive in this village, we need people on the streets frequenting the businesses, so residential units are what we need. I think it’s a nice project.”

DPR’s recommendation will be forwarded up to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), which is expected to vote on its recommendation to City planners at its Feb. 6 meeting.

Municipal Code changes recommended

The committee voted 4-0-1 to send a letter to LJCPA recommending changes to include in the 2020 revision of the Municipal Code. These changes, which address deficiencies in land-development regulations that invite serial permitting and the bypassing of community input into development, included:

1) limiting the so-called 50-percent rule’s CDP exemptions to projects that (a) increase existing gross floor area (GFA) by no more than 50 percent, or (b) are new builds or remodels resulting in a building using not more than 50 percent of allowable floor-to-area ratio (FAR) or (c) do not involve a property line that has used the 50-percent rule exemption within the past 36 months;

2) prohibiting another 50-percent-rule exemption within 36 months of the previous one — unless the subsequent permit leaves at least 50 percent of the original structure intact;

3) setting “reasonable” limits on the number of open construction permits allowed within a given radius or on streets with limited access;

4) requiring — “except under very limited circumstances” — the GFA of carports or open-sided garages to count against allowable FAR; and

5) requiring the GFA of all basements to count towards FAR at a 50 percent discount.

— La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday Feb. 11 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.