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Salk Institute development in La Jolla gets approval despite concerns about blocked ocean views

Salk Institute for Biological Studies
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies “is by far one of San Diego’s most important architectural icons, if not the most important,” says Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation.
(Associated Press)
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Plans for a new development at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla got the go-ahead from the California Coastal Commission on Dec. 14, despite concerns that it may block some of the institute’s iconic ocean views. The commission determined there are no substantial issues that would take the project out of conformance with a previously approved permit.

The city of San Diego approved a coastal development permit in 2008 authorizing an expansion of the Salk Institute, which involved demolishing two buildings and constructing a 94,000-square-foot East Torrey Pines building, an underground parking facility, new greenhouses and a new community center, according to coastal program analyst Toni Ross. The Salk Institute is at 10010 N. Torrey Pines Road.

A slide shows a rendering of a development plan approved in 2008 compared with what is proposed now at the Salk Institute.
A slide presented to the California Coastal Commission shows a rendering of a development plan the city of San Diego approved in 2008 compared with what is proposed now at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla.
(Screenshot by Elisabeth Frausto )

“While none of the major components approved by the 2008 permit have been constructed, several smaller projects have been completed,” Ross told commissioners. “The applicant is now moving forward with demolition of the two existing buildings and construction of the East Torrey Pines building.”

Design changes have been made since the permit was initially approved, and the city OKd them under a substantial-conformance review.

In 1991, the city designated the Salk Institute as a local historical resource and it was later named a historical structure by the state.

Ross said none of the development approved by the city in 2008 will be in or directly adjacent to the courtyard between the historic buildings.

“The East Torrey Pines building will be located on an existing private parking lot approximately 300 feet inland of the courtyard and therefore will not have any impact on the iconic views from the courtyard to the ocean,” Ross said.

However, an appeal filed in January by Charles Kaminski argued that “the proposed new architectural additions and changes would block world-renowned views from the east end of the complex to the Pacific Ocean and constitute new and substantial issues” that deviate from the previously approved permit.

Specifically, the appeal contended that design for the atrium, bridge and roof of the East Torrey Pines building would interfere with the east-west axis established on the site by the existing structures and protected by the historical designation, and that those same elements would block public views from North Torrey Pines Road.

“The changes that are described as minor, I believe, raise substantial issues. I don’t believe they’re minor,” Kaminski told commissioners.

The current view from North Torrey Pines Road could be altered by a development the Salk Institute is planning.
(Screenshot by Elisabeth Frausto)

Members of the public also expressed concerns about the preservation of views and historic resources.

“The Salk Institute is by far one of San Diego’s most important architectural icons, if not the most important,” said Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation. “When considering alterations of its world-renowned monumental buildings and their stunning relationship to nature and the sea, it demands the ultimate care and consideration.

“SOHO continues to assert that the new East Torrey Pines building needs to be two separate buildings joined by an open-air plaza. This arrangement would be consistent with the original design and maintain the crucially important east-west view access. However, the proposed East Torrey Pines building would irreparably damage this beloved open-air continuity.”

But Coastal Commission staff member Karl Schwing said: “I think what you need to keep in mind with this particular appeal is the baseline that we’re working from. In this particular case, the building that was approved in 2008 ... is a vested and approved project. And most of the comments that I believe you’re hearing today have really to do with that approval back in 2008, which we are not reopening today. What’s before us today are the changes and whether those raise a substantial issue. Staff does not believe they do. We believe they are actually improvements to the project. And we recommend the commission find no substantial issue.”

Agreeing, the commission unanimously passed a motion to that effect. ◆