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La Jollans’ suggestions for land development code are moving to San Diego Planning Commission

A larger-than-standard notice of application describing plans to vacate part of Cuvier Street in La Jolla
A larger-than-standard notice of application describing plans to vacate part of Cuvier Street in La Jolla is part of efforts to better inform the public of San Diego city projects.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

La Jolla community planners scored points with the city of San Diego when some recommended changes to the land development code were submitted to the Planning Department for consideration. And the La Jolla Shores community notched some by inching closer to getting a floor area ratio limit for the area.

All the recommendations will be heard by the San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday, Oct. 28.

As part of the city’s annual update to the land development code — which contains regulations for development and use of property, including zoning, subdivisions and other related use — representatives of La Jolla’s planning groups recommended changes to the parts that discuss residential height measurement and project noticing.

The city considered the recommendations over two workshops in July. Three suggestions got staff support to move forward to the Planning Commission and the City Council.

After years of disagreements over code interpretation among local planning groups, project applicants and the city of San Diego, some elements of housing development may get a little more refined after La Jolla volunteers’ suggested code changes were accepted to move forward with the city.

Project noticing has been an issue in recent years. The San Diego Development Services Department is required to let residents within 300 feet of a construction project know that it is planned, but the notices often are lost or thrown away.

One reason is that they are trifolded sheets of paper sent through the mail and addressed to “occupant” or “property owner,” with a return address of “city of San Diego,” so they can be mistaken for junk mail. Another is that they are sent months — or even years — in advance, so residents sometimes forget about the project.

The notices are either a notice of application, which includes details of the proposed project and goes to anyone in a 300-foot radius, or a notice of future decision, in which residents are informed that the Development Services Department could make a decision about the project either with or without a public hearing.

Though a notice of future decision states there may be local project review, it does not say when or where.

In April this year, the city tried a new form of noticing for the planned vacation of part of Cuvier Street to facilitate renovation of the La Jolla Recreation Center. It went beyond the typical 8½-by-11-inch sheet of paper posted somewhere onsite. Instead, a 3-by-4-foot sign was posted, noticeable from a car and readable from the sidewalk.

It’s an enlarged version of a notice of application, indicating that an application had been filed for the Cuvier Street proposal and that a decision on whether to vacate the street would be made at a public hearing. It also states whom people could contact about when the project would be heard locally and more.

The city agreed to recommend “requirements specifying the size and material of posted notices” to the Planning Commission but did not specify what the size and material must be.

Regarding structure height and height measurement, the city agreed, based on La Jolla planners’ feedback, to promote diagrams that “illustrate the measurement of structure height” and add further descriptions and clarifying language.

Changes for La Jolla Shores

The noticing and height measurement recommendations would apply citywide. Other changes would be specific to the La Jolla Shores area.

In 1974, the San Diego City Council adopted the La Jolla Shores Design Manual and La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance. However, the design manual is not clearly referenced in the Shores PDO, so the next land development code update will include language to specifically cite the design manual in the Shores PDO.

The Shores also has no maximum floor area ratio (a building’s total floor area relative to the size of the lot), though it is used as a metric for measuring bulk and scale. La Jolla Shores has a de facto FAR by requiring that 30 percent of a property be covered by landscaping and that structures be limited to 30 feet tall in compliance with the Proposition D coastal height limit, but not one in writing.

The next code update would modify the Shores PDO to specify the method for calculating FAR to make it consistent with citywide single-family zones, putting a FAR limit into the building code.

“Our goal was to provide more objective numerical measurements,” said Suzanne Weissman, a member of the La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Shores Planned District Advisory Board. “The Shores PDO was written in vague prose [in the 1970s] with little numerical measurements for staff to provide for applicants for a maximum size. Because of that, staff did not want to make subjective judgments. The PDO asks things like if the project is ‘in relation to its neighbors,’ which got everyone arguing over it saying things like ‘This is too big for the neighborhood’ without something objective to measure that.”

When the code was written, she said, “no one could have envisioned the size of houses being built today.” She said the recommended changes “will make the review process much easier.”

The recommended update also would bring the La Jolla Shores code in line with citywide regulations for fence and wall heights. ◆