San Diego Planning Commission denies La Jolla planners’ appeal against Hillside Drive home development
A project to build a 7,695-square-foot house at 7595 Hillside Drive was approved by a San Diego hearing officer in September, but the La Jolla Community Planning Association filed an appeal of that decision with the Planning Commission.
A home project that raised controversy during six hearings by La Jolla planning groups over the past few years continued to so at the San Diego Planning Commission meeting Dec. 1.
The project, to build a 7,695-square-foot house at 7595 Hillside Drive, was approved by a San Diego hearing officer in September, but the La Jolla Community Planning Association filed an appeal of that decision with the Planning Commission.
Commissioners voted to deny the appeal, paving the way for the development to proceed.
Project manager Bryan Hudson said at the Planning Commission meeting that the new development would be largely below street level because “the majority of the structure will be built into the hillside.” City staff determined that the proposal meets height requirements, Hudson said.
However, LJCPA President Diane Kane noted that the project underwent six reviews among LJCPA and its subcommittees and that “the measurements kept changing.”
“At this point,” she said, “I have no idea what staff is reviewing.”
She also took issue with the fact that the boards were offered a traffic management plan and never received one.
“It’s not that we found it insufficient, it did not exist,” Kane told commissioners. “The reason we ask for that is because of the site. … If you haven’t been to that site, we have some major concerns about construction practices and constructability.”
“We were trying to alert the Planning Commission that it is a problematic location to develop. It would have been nice to have some support, but we were not being listened to.”
— Diane Kane, La Jolla Community Planning Association president
For several years, Hillside Drive has been the site of multiple construction projects, despite being “curvy, narrow and heavily impacted” by construction activity, Kane said.
Hillside Drive is just under 1½ miles long from end to end. There are some 50 houses on the street, and properties there list for sale in the $2 million to $8 million range.
At the end of 2017, there were as many as 12 projects under review, under construction or recently completed within a half-mile of Hillside between Soledad Avenue and Via Siena. Currently, Kane said, seven projects are in similar stages of development on another half-mile stretch of road.
“These are very tight curves, and [drivers] have no idea that there is something going on until you have rounded the curve and are hit in the face with construction activity,” Kane told commissioners. When something is under construction, “the traffic and the parking are horrendous. But this is a route to get out of La Jolla.”
Hence, local reviewers requested a traffic mitigation plan “and didn’t get it,” Kane said.
“This is unacceptable,” she added. “It is a public street and this poses a safety hazard. We need the access.”
La Jolla architect Phil Merten, representing some neighbors, said the issues raised merit further review and contended the project exceeds allowable heights, despite the staff findings.
However, Commissioner Matthew Boomhower said the construction and traffic issues are outside the commission’s purview and would be handled by the city Development Services Department when it issues a permit.
“Based on those limitations, I move we support staff recommendation and deny the appeal,” Boomhower said, marking the end of the deliberations.
Kane said she was “not surprised” by the decision but that it seemed “they weren’t interested in what we presented.”
“They kind of threw these things out as a permit issue,” she said. “They said ‘It’s not our problem.’
“Our problem is, when we raise these in the permit stage, they don’t get addressed. We were trying to alert the Planning Commission that it is a problematic location to develop. It would have been nice to have some support, but we were not being listened to.”
When the project was first proposed in 2020, plans included demolition of a 1,588-square-foot home and attached garage and construction of a 7,091-square-foot house on a 0.79-acre site.
However, plans changed over the course of local and city reviews and now involve building a 7,695-square-foot, two-story house and a 643-square-foot attached garage.
The La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee supported the permit request in February 2020. However, in the months that followed, Merten argued that there had been significant changes to the design plans since the project was approved. He requested that the committee take back its approval, which it did by unanimous vote in May 2020 and asked the applicant to return to present the updated plans.
In June that year, architect Jess Gonzales returned to the PRC, which voted against the project. Board members cited issues with height, a retaining wall and more. The decision was forwarded to the Community Planning Association that July, and Merten said he believed the project exceeded allowable heights and the traffic plan would not leave enough space on the narrow street for emergency vehicles.
LJCPA heard the proposal but did not vote, and it was sent back to the PRC, which supported the plan for the
7,091-square-foot house in February 2021. LJCPA ratified the findings.
But this year, the plans changed and the PRC called a special meeting Aug. 29 and voted that it could not support the project with the latest plans because of concerns about height, staging, drainage and more.
A few days later, LJCPA backed the PRC in opposing the project because of height and traffic mitigation issues.
The proposal was approved by a San Diego hearing officer on Sept. 21. ◆
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