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La Jolla planning groups look into housing density in light of ‘Complete Communities’ proposal

An illustration from San Diego's "Complete Communities" website shows elements of the initiative.
(City of San Diego)

Though the city of San Diego’s “Complete Communities” initiative will not be heard by the City Council before Labor Day, La Jolla’s community advisory groups are busy analyzing the proposal — specifically, its controversial housing component.

The proposal has four separate pieces that intertwine: a Parks Master Plan, and transportation, housing and facilities financing. It is touted as a way to “create incentives to build homes near transit, provide more mobility choices and enhance opportunities for places to walk, bike, relax and play,” according to the city.

But some are worried that Complete Communities will alter development regulations in coastal areas and increase density in what some have called a “developer’s grab.”

Two La Jolla Community Planning Association subcommittees that review housing developments are looking into the housing component. LJCPA President Diane Kane said that if opposition from community groups cannot “make this go away,” she wants to find ways in which housing density could be increased without jeopardizing community character.

She said she also wants to protect the 30-foot building height limit for coastal communities.

Several La Jolla community groups met this month to discuss a proposed city initiative known as Complete Communities, taking on elements of the plan that fit into their respective purviews.

Kane asked Brian Will, chairman of the Development Permit Review Committee, and Andy Fotsch, chairman of the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee, to complete case studies.

The two are business partners at Will & Fotsch Architects, which has offices in La Jolla.

La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee

Complete Communities recommends a floor area ratio (the square footage of a property in relation to its lot) of up to 4.0.

However, PRC voted during its July 20 meeting to recommend a 2.0 maximum FAR in the commercial district of La Jolla Shores because “nothing above that would work there” while maintaining the maximum 30-foot height, Fotsch said.

“My stance on this personally is that The Village needs density to survive down the road … but I think for any sort of density to be effective in The Village, the 30-foot height limit is restrictive and you cannot get any decent FAR,” he said.

Skeptical that density could be increased within the confines of the 30-foot limit, he showed renderings for projects that meet the proposed terms of Complete Communities.

Citing a project in Hillcrest that he designed, in which he was “kissing” the local height limit, Fotsch said that in doing so, he was able to get multiple residential units (two of which are considered affordable), but the top unit was larger and considered more luxury.

“Something like this is something that I see could work in La Jolla in that the top unit has nice sky views and primo square footage and you bury some other units in and get a nice mix in one building,” he said. “But the 30-foot height limit is restrictive to any multistory building. The amount you are able to do goes up exponentially [as the height limit increases]. It really makes a big difference.”

Development Permit Review Committee

DPR, counterpart to The Shores PRC for the remainder of La Jolla, met July 21 to discuss the proposal and said there are some areas in La Jolla’s commercial areas where residential units could be added to increase density.

“I’ve always wanted to see more residential density in The Village,” Will said. “The notion that increased density is going to increase traffic is an antiquated notion. Increased residential density where we already have businesses can be a recipe for decreased traffic.”

Increased density “doesn’t belong in a lot of zones of La Jolla,” he added, but it’s appropriate for The Village center.

DPR member Angeles Liera, who helped draft the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (a blueprint for development), said there needs to be a mix of commercial and residential to make a downtown area viable.

“You need to preserve some space for the retail/commercial … I think downtown, even with a 2.0 FAR, can take some residential at almost every site,” she said. “I would also look at putting some higher-density residential [units] along the main transportation corridors like La Jolla Boulevard.”

Kane, who is a DPR trustee in addition to chairing LJCPA, noted that DPR recently approved a project on Pearl Street that had roof access and “about a third of the building pushed underground” as a way to increase density.

Should the underground features be counted in the FAR (they were not during the local review), the FAR would be just under 2.0, still be under 30 feet and “fit in quite nicely with the scale of the neighborhood,” Kane said.

The chairs of both committees agreed to produce further studies that illustrate whether or how to add density and where and how the 30-foot height limit plays a part.

Complete Communities also will be discussed at future LJCPA and other community advisory meetings. Learn more at ljcpa.org.

For more information about the Complete Communities housing component, visit sandiego.gov/planning/programs/completecommunities/housingsolutions. ◆