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‘Piano Building’ to become Paradisaea restaurant, but Bird Rock council still struggles with MAD encroachment

A rendering depicts the planned Paradisaea restaurant at 5680 La Jolla Blvd. in Bird Rock.
A rendering depicts the planned Paradisaea restaurant at 5680 La Jolla Blvd. in Bird Rock.
(Courtesy of Meg Connolly Communications)

Plans to convert the “Piano Building” in Bird Rock into a restaurant continue to vex members of the Bird Rock Community Council. After four hearings over the past year, the board still has not rendered a decision on whether to support planned encroachment into the public right of way to accommodate outdoor dining, but its president says the council will take the public feedback it has collected and come up with a recommendation soon.

The restaurant, to be called Paradisaea, is scheduled to open this summer at 5680 La Jolla Blvd. According to a news release, it will feature an “elevated yet approachable menu highlighting ingredient-driven contemporary Californian cuisine grounded in classical techniques,” highlighting local seafood, handmade pastas, “a signature hamburger and creative ice creams.”

Several menu options will be available as vegan or vegetarian.

The restaurant, owned by Bird Rock residents Eric and Zoe Kleinbub, also will feature a rotating menu of cocktails, wines and beers.

In addition to the restaurant, the property will include Dodo Bird Donuts, an all-day cafe, and Tropical Punch, a collection of finds in the categories of home, beauty and fashion from around the world.

But concerns about the encroachment into the area maintained by the Bird Rock Community Council through a maintenance assessment district continued to be raised at the BRCC’s meeting April 5. The city of San Diego has asked the Community Council to weigh in on the encroachment issue, not the restaurant design or operations.

Through the MAD, property owners pay an assessment for care of Bird Rock’s public spaces beyond what the city can provide, including landscaping. To accommodate outdoor dining for Paradisaea, the concrete sidewalk along La Jolla Boulevard would be removed and replaced with hardscape and planters. One area that is currently vegetated and maintained by the MAD would be removed and replaced with hardscape.

Noting that development of the MAD took several years and countless hours of work, Bird Rock resident Mike Costello said the plan was “giving away something [in landscaping] which we have tried so hard to get.”

“There are plenty of spaces that have outdoor dining already. Giving landscaping away is too much,” Costello said.

Costello, a member of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, suggested the project go before other local planning boards for review.

Darcy Ashley, who lives near the property, said “the reason we have such an amazing place is because it has consistent landscaping and consistent maintenance of that landscaping. This looks like the first step in dismantling the MAD. We start giving away areas, especially prominent corners, we’re going in the direction of creating disparate kinds of landscaping and maintenance.”

She also was concerned about setting a precedent and wondered why other groups weren’t reviewing the project.

The Bird Rock Community Council meets April 5 online.
(Courtesy of Bird Rock Community Council)

Other nearby residents said they support the restaurant concept but object to outdoor dining due to concerns about how it would affect pedestrian flow and noise.

Costello also raised concerns about having an outdoor dining area next to La Jolla Boulevard and said putting tables on that side of the property is “unconscionable” and that diners don’t belong that close to the street.

Architect AJ Remen said safety was being taken “very seriously” and that protections include “bollards and reinforced posts in the fencing all around the roundabout area … and spacing of those structural elements so there is more protection. But [it will] be designed so it looks like a comprehensive element.”

Some spoke in support of the project. Resident and BRCC member Arianna Opsvig said she was grateful for the work to make Bird Rock “a beautiful space” but said “one of the things I was struck by when I first moved here was the empty storefronts on [La Jolla] Boulevard and lack of people walking around. … The commercial area needs energy. I think outdoor dining is an essential part of having a lively and energic community.”

BRCC merchant group chairman Craig Bender said his committee had a survey of what residents want, and more restaurants was the No. 1 response. “As merchants, we appreciate those that support local … and I thank Zoe and Eric for putting their heart and soul into this,” Bender said.

Others applauded the applicants for wanting to preserve the building and mitigate safety risks.

BRCC President John Newsam said “we are hugely fortunate that Eric and Zoe have taken on this project. This is a marquee property in Bird Rock, and had any other developer acquired this building, the outcome would have been radically different. … It’s a blessing they have taken on this task.”

Eric Kleinbub called Paradisaea “a passion project” and said it will be “a totally and beautifully restored building. We have spared no expense in doing so. … I want Bird Rock to be amazing, and we see this as something that will do that. … This is going to be the heart and soul of the neighborhood.”

Though some landscaping would be removed, plantings would be added to the other side of the property to make it look like a “parklet,” he said.

Regarding the encroachment into the MAD, Newsam said “the review of this project has been a lengthy process; they have been accommodating to questions. ... The MAD has been transformative, let’s not kid ourselves. We have a duty to preserve and protect that and look carefully at anything that encroaches into the MAD. We have looked at this, and I believe in this case, the modest encroachment is justified and warranted for the benefits the community will get.”

Newsam said the board would review the comments the board has received and issue a recommendation “very quickly.”

The Piano Building got its nickname because it once housed Schroeder Piano Co. and the “Pianos” sign was not removed. In 2015, Peter Schroeder vacated the building after pleading guilty to four counts of theft from an elder in connection with pianos placed on consignment at the store by people who were not fully paid for their sales.

Since then, the building has housed various retail stores, but when it was sold to the Kleinbubs in 2019, it was closed in preparation for renovation.

The structure was designed by William Kesling, one of a handful of Southern California architects — including Frank Lloyd Wright, R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra — who defined the shape of modernist design in the mid-20th century.

The next BRCC meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 3. Newsam said the board hopes to resume meeting in person, but it isn’t yet known whether that will happen at the May meeting. Learn more at birdrockcc.org.

Learn more about Paradisaea at paradisaea.com. ◆