Plans for Hillside Drive home approved after 6 hearings

A project to build a 7,091-square-foot house at 7595 Hillside Drive got the La Jolla Shores PRC’s approval Feb. 15.
After five previous reviews by La Jolla community planning groups, a project to build a 7,091-square-foot, two-story house at 7595 Hillside Drive got the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee’s approval Feb. 15.
(Bing Maps / La Jolla Light)

The sixth time’s the charm.

After five previous reviews by La Jolla community planning groups, a project planned for 7595 Hillside Drive got the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee’s approval during its Feb. 15 meeting.

The applicant seeks site development and coastal development permits to demolish a residence and build a new 7,091-square-foot, two-story house. Little of it would be visible from the street, as much would be built into the hillside. However, the building’s overall height proved problematic at previous hearings.

In February 2020, the PRC approved the requested permits. However, in the months that followed, La Jolla architect Phil Merten argued to the committee that there had been significant changes to the design plans since the project was approved. He requested that the board take back its approval, which it did by unanimous vote during its May meeting and asked the applicant to return to present the updated plans.

In June, architect Jess Gonzales returned to the PRC, which voted the project down. Board members cited issues with height, a retaining wall and others. The decision was forwarded to the La Jolla Community Planning Association, which heard the proposal but did not vote at its July meeting, and it was sent back to the PRC.

At the PRC’s December meeting, Gonzales said there had been a series of adjustments to the project based on LJCPA recommendations and that the architectural style was in line with “95 percent of what’s being built in La Jolla.” But he could still not get the necessary approval. Chief among the concerns was the way overall height was measured, with Merten arguing the structure was above allowable heights.

“Over the past few months, we made the modifications necessary to bring it into height [compliance], we have been diligently working with Phil Merten and his client and I think we have arrived in a position where the building needs to be,” Gonzales said at the Feb. 15 meeting.

Merten agreed, saying: “Jess has revised the project and lowered the rooflines down, so it complies with height limits. … The concerns I had with this project not complying with the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance has resolved. It now complies with applicable regulations.”

However, he added, “everyone needs to be aware there will be traffic impacts on this site.”

Given that the project is on the narrow and winding Hillside Drive, Gonzales said a construction staging area will be “far away from anybody and not visible to anybody” and that cones and flagmen would be used to mitigate traffic impacts. He also committed to not having construction workers’ vehicles on that part of Hillside Drive. “The workers will be shuttled in and out during construction activities,” he said.

While most PRC members commended the applicant’s work, trustee Dan Courtney maintained his objection to building anything on the site. “The usable land here in negligible … there shouldn’t even be a house here,” he said. “I’m still totally opposed to it.”

A motion that findings can be made to support the project passed 5-1. It proceeds to the Community Planning Association for ratification.

“Thank you for hanging in there,” said trustee Janie Emerson. “Thank you for working with us and working with the community.”

Other PRC news

Permits to build an accessory dwelling unit on former District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s La Jolla Shores Drive property were narrowly approved.

The plans are to construct a new detached 1,200-square-foot companion unit and a new 474-square-foot detached garage to be located at the back of an existing house.

A rendering depicts an accessory dwelling unit planned for 8553 La Jolla Shores Drive.

Lightner said the unit was being built “for my daughter, who is peeking around the corner here with her husband and their 7-month-old baby.”

However, the plans call for the ADU to be placed close to the neighboring property, raising some trustees’ eyebrows. Further, one of the walls would effectively be two stories with no windows.

Lightner said the existing garage is already on the property line and the new one would be built in its footprint. The view of the ADU would be shrouded by existing bamboo, she said.

Merten argued that the La Jolla Community Plan recommends transition between older and newer development and said “the side facing the street … seems to be in character with the existing house on the property. But the eastern and southern elevations are plain stucco walls.”

He questioned “whether it is a good design to push a building right up to the property line in conflict with the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance.”

However, Courtney called it “the perfect example of good use of an ADU” and “the reason they have these laws about ADUs.”

In September 2017, the San Diego City Council passed an ADU ordinance that loosened restrictions on building companion units of up to 1,200 square feet or junior units up to 500 square feet.

A motion to support the project passed 4-3. It will proceed to the Community Planning Association for ratification.

The La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee next meets (pending items to review) at 4 p.m. Monday, March 15, online. Learn more at ◆