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Outdoor dining expansion at La Jolla’s Paradisaea restaurant gets another approval vote — with reservations

Paradisaea is at 5680 La Jolla Blvd., near Bird Rock Avenue.
Paradisaea is at 5680 La Jolla Blvd., near Bird Rock Avenue.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)
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The saga of Paradisaea’s plans to expand its outdoor dining continues.

Despite getting approval from the La Jolla Community Planning Association the week before while facing concerns about intensification of use, the Bird Rock restaurant went before the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee during its Jan. 9 meeting online.

At a previous hearing in November, the PDO Committee asked the applicant team to return with more information.

This time the board voted warily to support the plan.

The restaurant has been seeking a neighborhood use permit to expand the outdoor dining along the building at 5680 La Jolla Blvd. to add more tables and chairs. The furthest expansion would be 17 feet from the building and 14 feet from the curb.

Applicant representative AJ Remen said the outdoor dining area would be cordoned off by ropes, pots and other movable items and that a darkened area of the sidewalk was created to mark where the outdoor dining would be placed.

However, several people said the sidewalk cafe as “proposed” has already been in place for months. A photo taken by the La Jolla Light in early November showed additional tables set up further from the building, along with ropes separating the dining area from the sidewalk. The Light also witnessed that in December and early this week.

Paradisaea restaurant's outdoor dining area is pictured in November.
Paradisaea restaurant’s outdoor dining area is pictured in November. A similar setup has continued in December and January.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The morning of Jan. 13, when the restaurant wasn’t open, seven tables and six heaters were lined up along the building while not in use for outdoor dining.

Remen told the Light that according to management, “the tables being used currently outside Paradisaea are within the 4.5 feet of the building face [allowed] as part of our previous approval. The expanded outdoor dining area (beyond the 4.5 feet of the building face) we are pursuing and has been presented in the latest meetings is not being used currently. It may be deceptive, as some of the expanded area is roped off for training new servers of staff so servers don’t bump into people, but according to restaurant management, no tables are being placed outside that existing 4.5-foot zone for service.”

Seven tables and six heaters were lined up along Paradisaea's building early Jan. 13 while not in use for outdoor dining.
The morning of Jan. 13, when Paradisaea wasn’t open, seven tables and six heaters were lined up along the building while not in use for outdoor dining.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

In addition, several residents continued to argue that expanded outdoor dining constitutes an intensification of use that needs additional permits and should have gone before local planning boards earlier in the process. The permitting for the restaurant is handled by the city of San Diego.

Paradisaea opened Sept. 25 in the former “Piano Building,” which got its nickname because it once was home to Schroeder Piano Co. It also housed various retail stores before it was sold in 2019 to local residents Eric and Zoe Kleinbub, who converted it to Paradisaea.

Many locals have called the change from a piano store to a clothing store to a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining a significant intensification of use. But Remen said city staff members did not make that finding during the early stages of review.

“We followed their guidelines on this,” he said. “The building was previously used as a restaurant, so it is not an intensification of use.”

Longtime resident Don Schmidt countered that the previous restaurant was an ice cream shop in the 1950s, before Bird Rock was as developed as it is now.

Resident Barbara Dunbar said the space had not been a restaurant “from the 1970s onward.”

“The additional outdoor dining is unnecessary and impacts the walkability [of the sidewalk],” Dunbar said. She further opposed the use of heaters and umbrellas that she said might distract drivers or impede pedestrian flow.

PDO Committee Chairwoman Deborah Marengo noted that the most recent uses of the building were the piano store and a clothing store and questioned how the city could not find Paradisaea’s plan to be an intensification of use.

“Adding a few tables outside might not be an intensification of use for an existing restaurant under the code, but this took up quite a bit of retail space and it is an intensification,” Marengo said.

PDO trustee Joe Terry said he likes the project but believes additional building permits should have been required that could have addressed the concerns sooner.

Schmidt agreed, saying “the rules must be adhered to, and had the applicant adhered to the PDO [Planned District Ordinance, or blueprint for development], we’d have a better project.”

Marengo said “you can see how things expand when they are not following the process.”

However, a motion to oppose the project failed for lack of a second. A motion to support it passed 3-2, with trustees Bill Podway and John Shannon opposed and Marengo, as chair, and trustee Japhet Estrada abstaining. Estrada did not give a reason.

Terry said the motion noted concerns about intensification of use and pedestrian and driver safety that the board would like the city to consider, and included the caveat that “the applicant did not use the standard process for getting approval, and we endorse the use of the standard approval process in future projects.”

Though the item was already approved by the Community Planning Association, the PDO Committee’s findings will proceed to LJCPA for ratification or further review at its next meeting. ◆