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La Jolla PDO Committee shows support for changes to regulations on outdoor dining and building use

The La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee is looking to revise allowed building uses in La Jolla.
Hoping to attract new businesses and fill vacant storefronts, the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee is looking to revise allowed building uses in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Planned District Ordinance review committee, which determines whether development projects in The Village conform to its blueprint for development, has identified six items in the ordinance — pertaining to allowed uses of buildings, outdoor dining and more — that might need changing.

The PDO is part of the building code for the city of San Diego, which undergoes revisions once every few years. The committee last month began discussing whether and how to change the PDO during its next revision and narrowed the areas of possible change to six during its Dec. 14 meeting.

The board plans to further evaluate those items and draft specific changes in coming months.

The next PDO review cycle starts in January. Committee Chairwoman Deborah Marengo said she hopes to have “something concrete” by January or February to submit to the city.

The topics are outdoor dining, density, hotel room limits, ground-floor retail requirements, residential units not being allowed on the ground floor of a building, and the number of stories on buildings permitted within the 30-foot height limit.

Topics that garnered early support were easing restrictions on outdoor dining, altering what is allowed on the ground floor of a building and the percentage of any building that must be retail.

Marengo noted that the PDO limits outdoor dining options by requiring eight feet of room for pedestrians. But with more restaurants taking their tables outside recently due to pandemic-related restrictions, some diners have developed a preference for it, she said.

“From what I hear from a lot of restaurant operators, it has really been very beneficial to have that outdoor seating,” Marengo said. “It gives them more presence. We’re looking at making this year-round and loosening the restriction that the PDO puts on outdoor dining.”

The city currently has a sidewalk use-permit process, and Marengo said she’s thinking of using that process to provide a mechanism for restaurants to outline how they want to arrange their tables and possibly minimize the path requirements as a way to maintain outdoor dining.

Trustee Brett Murphy called that change “a must.”

Fellow trustee Joe Parker said he was “a little worried” about safety and pedestrian access.

The committee agreed to pursue that element in its recommendations.

The board also agreed to focus on density, including identifying locations within the PDO where office buildings could be converted to residential units, including affordable housing.

With more and more people working from home, now is the time to make “permanent changes to the PDO” regarding density, Murphy said. “I don’t think things are going to go back to normal; I think some of the changes [brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including people working from home] are permanent. ... I think we should have a little more flexibility for the commercial real estate people.”

The idea of altering the ground-floor retail requirement also was met with enthusiasm.

Currently, a certain percentage of the ground floor of any building in The Village — based on the overall square footage — must be retail.

“As weeks go by, we are losing more and more merchants, especially on Girard [Avenue],” Marengo said. “It’s really becoming a problem. We’ve talked about the challenges retailers face and … [one of them is the ground-floor retail requirement because] depending on the footprint of the building, the ground floor can be very large.”

Murphy said “retail has definitely changed, so whatever you can do to reduce the barrier to entry, I would be all for it, so long as it makes sense. Brands don’t want 10,000 square feet anymore … they want it smaller. I think if we make the ground-floor retail requirement smaller, we could get some great brands into The Village.”

Coupled with that, the board discussed whether to abolish a regulation that says residential units are not allowed on the ground floor.

“If we cut down on the retail requirement, thinking about residential, one option could be to convert those spaces to [smaller] retail in the front and a residential unit in the back,” Marengo said.

Committee member Katey Longo said: “I think La Jolla is yearning for some sort of beautification, either an alleyway or a street that would be dedicated to art, outdoor dining and new vendors. That could be the life La Jolla needs to get people back into The Village, even with COVID.”

Regarding the hotel room limit the PDO imposes, one idea is to remove the limit. However, board members said it would be good to have input from the hotel industry before proceeding.

The board did not discuss possible changes to the number of stories allowed in buildings — currently two — within the 30-foot height limit.

The La Jolla PDO Committee next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆