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Planned La Jolla church renovation and addition draws neighbors’ concerns over parking, traffic and use

A rendering depicts the planned remodeling of the La Jolla Christian Fellowship education building.
(Courtesy of Mark Lyon)

A planned remodeling at the La Jolla Christian Fellowship campus in The Village drew strong opposition and a series of questions during the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee’s meeting Aug. 9 — so much so that trustees asked the applicants to return with more information at a future meeting.

The renovation is focused on the two-story education building at 627 Genter St. adjacent to an alley and Draper Avenue, outside the church sanctuary and fellowship hall.

The proposal calls for a neighborhood development permit to add 1,926 square feet, including 680 square feet to both the first and second floors and 566 square feet to create a third floor.

“Over the last several years, the church has been growing, which is a great thing, and a lot of families are joining,” architect Mark Lyon said. “These families have young children, and the church has found itself short of space.”

Lyon said the church wants to provide four things with the renovation: an entryway from the street to the facilities; a space for individual and family counseling; a space for child care during Sunday services; and a space for Bible study classes that take place two nights a week.

“The church also wants to reduce the noise at the street by bringing the children inside and get those children to a safe place as quickly as possible,” Lyon said. “Unfortunately, there are more and more homeless [people] on the street, so safety has become a big concern for the church.”

Though the new structure would be three stories, it still would be under the 30-foot coastal height limit, according to the plans. At more than 45 years old, the building is considered potentially historic, and therefore Lyon said he is following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation as a precaution.

Because of that, the existing building will remain but the interior rooms would be removed and/or reconfigured for the new uses, and the building’s accessibility features would be updated.

The new third-floor roof deck would be for recreation and assembly.

“We’re not doing anything to the exterior of the original building, so the original details will be maintained,” though the computer rendering shown at the DPR meeting made the planned development appear more stark than it ultimately will be, Lyon said.

The La Jolla Christian Fellowship education building as it stands today at 627 Genter St.
(Courtesy of Mark Lyon)

As part of the development, a grouping of tents put in place to accommodate outdoor play during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic would be removed, according to pastor Adam Stadtmiller, and “more greenery and more trees” would be added in the tents’ place.

La Jollan Bill Fitzmaurice called the project “lovely” and said it “fits nicely into the neighborhood.”

The church “is more than just a place of worship, it has become a community leader in and of itself and helped galvanize a lot of community members to help within the community and those that are in trouble,” Fitzmaurice said. “I think the addition is something that will help the community tremendously.”

Ara Kulidjian, who lives next door, said the addition isn’t “a problem for me” and that the existing sanctuary is already “quite tall.”

However, several neighbors lodged formal opposition to the project ahead of the meeting.

“Since the church’s membership began to substantially increase over the past two years, my husband and I have noticed an increase in traffic and on-street parking on Sundays,” Jan Heineken said. “While this is manageable on Sundays, what is proposed … will serve to go beyond a Sunday morning-only influence. The proposed changes will create a neighborhood of commercial-type enterprises instead of keeping to the quiet neighborhood we once had.

“We have been witness to such a change with the growth of La Jolla High School’s student enrollments and don’t wish to see our neighborhood continue to be impacted by more traffic and density. I stand opposed to this proposed project because it will only serve to add to our density, traffic and parking congestion.”

Andrea Russell added that “three stories are not the norm” in the area, and “even if it is within the 30-foot boundary, the signal to developers [by] approving a three-story project in a very residential neighborhood in La Jolla may set a dangerous precedent. … Increased traffic, parking [problems], congestion, pollution, safety [concerns], noise, etc., appears yet to have been considered and addressed by this project. The church’s current activities include utilizing the alley for outdoor music, games, events ... and noise every day and night of the week from gatherings and church events.”

Other neighbors argued that the project would bring more people to the church and questioned whether there is sufficient parking to accommodate the increase.

Andreas Koester said parking on Sundays before services is “a feeding frenzy.”

“Picture fish in a fishbowl when you put food there,” he said. “People are swarming in and scrambling for the few available parking places, and not looking for pedestrians or other cars. My car has been hit twice in the last few years.”

The applicant team agreed to present more information at a future meeting to address the neighbors’ concerns and questions.

The La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee meets the second and third Tuesdays of each month. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆