14-unit townhouse project in Bird Rock gets support from La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee
The proposal for La Jolla Boulevard doesn’t contain ground-floor retail, sparking debate about the need for it in the area.
A planned development in Bird Rock has reignited debate about the need for ground-floor retail in the area.
During hearings by the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee on Dec. 13 and 20, some speakers argued that the number of vacant storefronts along La Jolla Boulevard indicates more retail is not needed. Others said having retail on the ground floor is a requirement of the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance and should be honored.
The committee ultimately voted to support the development.
The project in question is Adelante Townhomes, planned for 5575 La Jolla Blvd. The applicants are seeking a coastal development permit to demolish an office building and construct a two-story, 14-unit residential building with a basement level, covered parking and roof decks totaling 21,485 square feet — but no ground-floor retail.
Architect Stephen Dalton said the design contains arches and cornices and an elevated roof element and is “in scale with the [Chase] bank across the street. We feel like our project sits nicely within the community.”
The townhomes are to be offered for sale; one unit will be considered affordable for low-income residents.
The project does not include ground-floor retail because “in order to fit the parking underground and meet the definition of a basement, the ground floors are elevated four feet above the sidewalk, which would make it inaccessible from an [Americans with Disabilities Act] standpoint for a public-serving retail space,” Dalton said.
However, the La Jolla PDO — a blueprint for development — requires that 50 percent of ground-floor space be reserved for retail in Zone 4, which includes Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard.
“This zone includes neighborhood commercial areas characterized by small retail shops,” according to the PDO. “Development in this zone is dominated by community-serving and visitor-service retail uses. This area, unlike the other zones, is automobile-oriented because of its location along major streets. Development standards for this zone are intended to maintain the retail community-serving and visitor-serving uses and encourage the development of some community-serving offices, and residences.”
But Dalton said the applicant team is asking for a waiver of that requirement because the development includes an affordable-housing unit.
That started a debate among DPR Committee trustees and others at the Dec. 20 meeting.
“I have a real problem with the city [of San Diego] willy-nilly not enforcing the PDO and [not requiring] the applicant to put commercial retail space on the ground floor,” said Bird Rock resident Don Schmidt. “The PDO is part of our Local Coastal Program … and to me, this doesn’t comply.”
Having more retail in the community would encourage people to walk more and drive less, which could help the city meet some of the terms of its Climate Action Plan, Schmidt added.
“There are so many people that want to make Bird Rock vibrant, and [with this project] we’ll have a dead zone for retail from this corner to Wayfarer bakery [at 5525 La Jolla Blvd.],” he said. “It also opens the door for other developers to come in, buy up property and start eliminating the business district. …
“It’s not a bad project, it’s just not the right project for that location.”
DPR trustee Mike Costello said he had “a little heartache about giving up some of that first-floor retail” but added that there is “an excess of retail” on La Jolla Boulevard. He questioned how the project’s driveway would feed onto the boulevard, which “gets a little congested” during peak traffic hours.
Trustee Angeles Leira said that while she appreciates some elements of the design, “it is a shame to lose the commercial area because the more you constrict it, the more specialized it is going to become and the services go out the window, and that is a problem.”
Trustee John Fremdling countered that a third of the retail spaces are long vacant and in “terrible condition.”
Trustee Glen Rasmussen added, “I do not think we need more mixed-use projects.”
Fremdling called the townhouse development “a complete change [from] any of the structures that are in the area. There’s a big residential building across the street, but no one would call it the least bit attractive — it’s just kind of boxy. [Bird Rock residents] never need to drive anywhere. We have Starbucks, we have two cleaners, we have banks, we have restaurants, we have the UPS Store. … It’s not a big commuter town. It’s known for its single-family residences. This would be a perfect addition.”
A motion that the development meets the requirements for the needed permit passed 5-1, with Leira opposed and trustee Greg Jackson abstaining as acting chairman.
Other DPR news
6432 El Camino del Teatro: The board also heard, but did not vote on, a development proposed for 6432 El Camino del Teatro in the Muirlands neighborhood. Plans call for coastal development and site development permits to demolish a single-family residence and build a two-story, 7,982-square-foot single-family house.
DPR members asked for images of how the development would look in relation to its neighbors, along with landscape, grading and construction plans and more. The applicant agreed to return at a future meeting.
Next meeting: The La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee next meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10, online. Learn more at lajollacpa.org.
— La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report. ◆
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