Permit reviewers’ La Jolla Mesa project vote up for grasp

Applicants seek permits for a 1,175-square-foot addition to an existing 4,135-square-foot, one-story single-family residence at 5911 La Jolla Mesa Drive.
(Bing Maps / La Jolla Light)

A development project for the canyon-facing La Jolla Mesa area that has been heard and revised since August 2019 finally got a vote on April 14 at the La Jolla Development Permit Review committee’s (DPR) virtual meeting. Whether the 4-2-2 vote will register as an affirmative vote that findings can be made for the project — or as a tie — remains to be seen.

The applicants, represented by attorney Matthew Peterson, seek a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and Site Development Permit (SDP) for a 1,175-square-foot addition to an existing 4,135-square-foot, one-story single-family residence over a basement at 5911 La Jolla Mesa Drive, and construction of a 907-square-foot accessory structure over a basement. Peterson said the new proposed structure is “effectively a cabana area with a basement completely below grade.”

As previously reported in the Light, a major issue is whether the construction encroaches into the approved open space/environmentally sensitive lands (ESL) area, with the applicant’s team arguing no encroachment and land-use attorney Julie Hamilton, representing one of the neighbors, arguing major encroachment.

The back-and-forth continued at the April meeting. Hamilton’s presentation opened with: “I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Peterson …” and Peterson replying: “I’d like to correct Ms. Hamilton …” during his rebuttal.

While the two continued to debate whether the development would encroach into ESL and open space — and question the validity of each other’s maps and exhibits — the City has weighed in and determined the project can proceed as designed.

Peterson cited a letter from City project manager Xavier Del Valle that reads: “We affirm that the open space designation over private property that is zoned for single family residential uses does not prohibit development from taking place. … Based on the plans submitted to date, the project will not encroach into ESL.”

The letter also indicated the project was “moving in the direction for a staff recommendation of approval.”

Reflecting on the City’s position, DPR trustee Angeles Leira said: “The whole way the City is handling the open space (boundaries) is unfortunate, but that’s the way it is and that’s what the rules are.”

Fellow trustee Mike Costello echoed: “This is really difficult. The City has dropped the ball with respect to the ESL boundary and the open space boundary designation.”

All said, a motion that findings can be made for the requested permits was voted on, 4-2-2, with DPR chair Brian Will and trustee Diane Kane abstaining because, she said, she had missed too many meetings to follow the conversation. However, the board could not determine whether the motion carried.

Some argued abstentions do not count in the total vote count, which would have effectively made the vote 4-2; others argued because the ayes did not garner a majority of the total, it was actually a tie.

As such, DPR chair Brian Will said the vote would proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification or further discussion as is, and board members would seek guidance as to how it will read in the interim.

Slope stabilization

The second project on the docket — a CDP and SDP for slope stabilization with construction of a soil nail wall located at 7365 Remley Place near the La Jolla Nature Reserve — was approved with far less controversy.

Applicant Kent McNeil explained a section of hillside under his house was showing signs of erosion, and the City’s proposed solution was a wall similar to what was constructed along Torrey Pines Road.

McNeil said the wall would face small sections of the La Jolla Nature Reserve and would only be visible from certain areas of the hiking trail and not from neighbor’s houses. The 24-foot-high and 90-foot-wide wall would take two months to build.

With only two questions from the board and meeting attendees, a motion that findings could be made passed 5-1-1.

“This motion, I’m quite confident, passes,” Will joked.

— La Jolla’s DPR committee meets at 4 p.m. the second and third Tuesdays of each month. The results of the April 21 meeting will be in next week’s Light. Those who wish to attend meetings virtually can visit for details.