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Adelante Townhomes project clears La Jolla PDO Committee despite deviation from Planned District Ordinance

A rendering depicts the proposed Adelante Townhomes at 5575 La Jolla Blvd., at Forward Street.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The developer of the 14-unit residential building planned for La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock requested a waiver to a requirement for ground-floor retail, saying the economics ‘don’t make sense.’ Some area residents disagree.

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Though a debate about the need for ground-floor retail continued, the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee gave its support this week to the proposed Adelante Townhomes project along La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock, despite parts of it that do not conform with the PDO, a blueprint for community development.

Adelante Townhomes applicant Murfey Co. is 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 at 5575 La Jolla Blvd., at Forward Street. The project would total 21,485 square feet.

The townhomes are to be offered for sale, with one unit considered affordable for low-income residents.

Because the project includes the affordable unit, Murfey Co. requested a waiver to a La Jolla Planned District Ordinance requirement that 50 percent of ground-floor space in new development be reserved for retail in Zone 4, which includes Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard.

The PDO Committee was asked Jan. 9 to consider whether it could support the project despite its non-conformance with the ground-floor retail regulation.

“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.”

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 that more retail is not needed. Others said having retail on the ground floor is a requirement of the Planned District Ordinance and thus should be honored. The DPR Committee ultimately voted to support the development.

A rendering shows the proposed Adelante Townhomes at 5575 La Jolla Blvd. (white building in the center).
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The debate continued during the PDO Committee meeting, with trustee John Shannon saying that while the project is “quite nice” and “people have said maybe we don’t need [retail] this far down,” there is “a limited amount of La Jolla Boulevard that would even be suitable for business frontage, and the fact that we can’t entertain that is a shame.”

Some Bird Rock residents continued to argue for ground-floor retail in the project, calling the location a “major corner” in the area and saying that other mixed-use developments have done well along La Jolla Boulevard.

“This is a key intersection [at which] there is retail on both sides, so it is right in the center of a very active couple of blocks,” Sharon Wampler said.

Noting Murfey Co.'s nearby The Collins mixed-use building — an 18,330-square-foot property with 15 one- and two-bedroom apartments and ground-floor retail space on the corner of La Jolla Boulevard and Nautilus Street — Wampler said meeting the commercial requirement is possible.

“The [Adelante Townhomes] project it beautiful … but there is major concern that there is an opportunity for revitalization and activation of the area [that is not being taken],” she said. “There is a big concern about getting rid of the commercial area and losing that activation on a major corner. Once that [development] is built, it’s built forever.”

Others said the 10 West building in Bird Rock is another example of successful mixed use. That project, designed by Marengo Morton Architects, is a two-level complex with 10 residences and ground-floor retail on La Jolla Boulevard at Bird Rock Avenue.

Resident Don Schmidt said he is against “spot amendments to the PDO.”

“That was one of the reasons the PDO was set up, because retail was getting pushed out of The Village,” Schmidt said.

He added that a lack of retail at Adelante would create a commercial “dead zone” in that area of La Jolla Boulevard.

Murfey Co. partner Russ Murfey countered that a dead zone already exists by way of vacant retail spaces on the boulevard.

“It’s paramount that we put forward a project that represents the community, what the community needs and what we would want in our own backyard,” Murfey said. “We believe in retail and pedestrian-oriented design. … The retail economics of Bird Rock don’t make sense. It’s not financeable to have a new project [with retail] here. It’s evident when you drive down La Jolla Boulevard … over 30 percent of the retail spaces are vacant. … We’re fooling ourselves if we think building more retail is the solution. If anything, it’s supply and demand. We need to eliminate some retail so the existing supply can be absorbed.”

He added that the project would bring new residents who would support existing retail.

A motion to support the project, despite its elements that don’t conform to the PDO, passed 5-1, with trustee Joe Terry opposing without comment.

The findings will proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification or further review. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆