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San Diego hearing officer approves Windansea belvedere plan

A photo illustration shows a belvedere similar to the one planned for Windansea superimposed where it would be built.
A photo illustration shows a belvedere similar to the one planned for Windansea superimposed in the location where it would be built.
(Courtesy of Jim Neri)

A plan to build a belvedere (also known as a gazebo) at Windansea Beach advanced a step closer to fruition April 20 when a San Diego hearing officer ruled in favor of the project.

The plan calls for coastal development and site development permits for a public-private project along the west side of Neptune Place between Westbourne Street and Palomar Avenue. Work would include construction of the belvedere shade structure on Neptune near Rosemont Street, along with continuation of post-and-chain barriers and new benches and trash receptacles. The whole project is to be funded by Friends of Windansea.

Members of the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, formed last year by opponents of the belvedere, say they support repair elements of the project but are against construction of the gazebo.

The project’s backers say the structure would replace a belvedere that was built in the 1920s and torn down in the 1980s in an apparent act of vandalism.

Hearing officer Duke Fernandez heard from both sides over the course of more than an hour.

Landscape architect and Friends of Windansea member Jim Neri said the Friends formed in 1997 as an ad-hoc group of beach-goers and residents to “make improvements to Windansea Beach and to prevent erosion, or at least slow it down.”

The group drafted a plan that included creation of a parking lot and beach access stairs, which the city approved in 2000. “We fulfilled the intent of that plan in making repairs and conducting maintenance on those improvements,” Neri said.

He said the belvedere is “one of the improvements we would like to make.”

Those in favor of the plan spoke of the need for shade for people who are not physically able to access the beach via the stairs. They also spoke of belvederes’ contribution to the historical fabric of La Jolla’s coast, notably at Scripps Park. The new belvedere, similar to others, would be about 9 feet tall, 10 feet long and 6 feet wide and built with historically accurate wood that can withstand oceanside air.

“This historic reconstruction will be an asset to La Jolla and the city, with minimal impact to the surrounding community,” said La Jollan Ken Hunrichs. “It will provide much-needed shelter along the coast, and the design reflects the unifying community architecture found in other similar structures in La Jolla.”

Surfer Josh Billauer argued that the structures provide access to the beach for those with physical limitations. “The people that come to these beaches need a place to be able to hang out, watch the waves. … The belvedere is an important place for people to enjoy our beaches.”

Opponents cited concerns that construction of the new belvedere would damage the bluffs, potentially increase erosion and block views. They also worried about the possibility of parties and/or trash at the gazebo.

Jim Best, a Preserve Windansea Beach Association member and nearby property owner, asked Fernandez to deny the permit application outright or conditionally approve it while disallowing the belvedere.

La Jollan Kate Woods said the area “has done fine” without the gazebo since the previous structure — which she called a “nuisance” — was torn down. “We’ve enjoyed using umbrellas [for shade], just like all the beach-goers in California.”

Others argued that the belvedere could end up being occupied by homeless people and would draw more people to the already congested pedestrian area.

Windansea belvedere supporters and opponents, along with San Diego city staff, attend a hearing April 20 online.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Neri said Friends of Windansea would maintain the belvedere once it is constructed. The group has maintained “all of the repairs by Friends of Windansea at Windansea Beach,” he said. “We have never had a problem getting donations for repairs, because people love that beach.”

He said the group would be “happy” to enter a maintenance agreement to maintain and clean the belvedere.

San Diego Development Services Department planner Phil Lizzi said the project complies with the La Jolla Community Plan and that the gazebo would “not obstruct public views.”

Senior planner Dan Monroe added that the structure would conform with the city’s Multiple Species Conservation Program, though it would be subject to specific guidelines that have been incorporated as conditions of the permits.

“The belvedere is an important place for people to enjoy our beaches.”

— Surfer Josh Billauer

Fernandez said “there were some strong arguments” on both sides. “I feel like the strongest point made today is that [the belvedere] provides access to elderly and disabled people … and families to go to the vantage point, get some shade and enjoy the view.”

Responding to concerns about possible negative impacts, he added, “I cannot base my decision today on anticipation of a crime … and it doesn’t [seem] like these belvederes are attracting constant calls for service by the Police Department.”

Though Fernandez said he “was a little stuck on this one” because he has seen the “potential issues” from these structures, he said that “based on all the evidence and testimony, I can make the necessary findings to approve this project.”

The decision can be appealed to the city Planning Commission by Wednesday, May 4. Woods said that was being considered, but she did not comment further.

Neri called the ruling “fair” and said the outcome of the hearing means the project “is batting a thousand in approvals.”

The proposal has been supported by many of La Jolla’s community planning groups since it began circulating in 2018.

The concept was approved by the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee in 2018 and the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board in 2020, with more detailed plans approved by the DPR in February.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association approved the plan in April 2021.

In November, the San Diego City Council denied an appeal by the Preserve Windansea Beach Association of the city’s determination that the project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review and would have no significant environmental impact. ◆