La Jolla planners give OK to Adelante Townhomes project after lengthy review

A rendering depicts the 14-unit Adelante Townhomes development planned for 5575 La Jolla Blvd. in Bird Rock.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Adelante Townhomes project planned for Bird Rock got the approval of the La Jolla Community Planning Association after more than an hour of deliberation and an attempt to postpone the vote.

During its Feb. 2 meeting, the board hashed out concerns over the development’s lack of ground-floor retail space (which other local boards also considered) before voting to support it.

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.

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 Planned District Ordinance and should be honored.

Ultimately, the DPR and PDO review committees lent their support to the project. It was presented to the Bird Rock Community Council last year, but it did not vote.

Murfey Co. partner Russ Murfey told LJCPA trustees that the project is intended to “put something special forward here.”

The current property “is dilapidated … underutilized and vacant,” he said. “It’s not a great element of La Jolla Boulevard.”

The proposed Spanish Revival-style development would be a better use of the space, he added.

Addressing the concern about ground-floor retail, Murfey said the applicant team “did a retail survey and we walked every retail space on this five-block corridor. … We found that of the 98 retail units, 19 are vacant. There is a 19 percent vacancy rate. … In our opinion, adding more retail to this site doesn’t make sense.”

Nevertheless, during public comments, Bird Rock residents continued to advocate for ground-floor retail.

“I have some real concerns about this project for a number of reasons,” Darcy Ashley said. “This sets a precedent for taking retail out. … I hope we don’t abandon the PDO as it is and keep the good things that are there.”

Local architect Phil Merten agreed, saying, “To eliminate commercial uses from this would be a departure from our community plan.”

Some applauded the design, saying it would replace the “ramshackle” property that is currently there.

Murfey said he was using a state incentive system for affordable units that was adopted by the city of San Diego. “We respectfully understand there are items in the PDO that would be ideal to have, but this is allowed by the state and the city,” he said.

He added that the development would bring residents who could walk to existing retail.

During the trustees’ deliberation, Larry Davidson said: “I really like the project; I think it’s a huge improvement. … But from the standpoint as to whether this should go forward here right now, I disagree. I think the [retail vacancy] statistics you are using are based on an unprecedented pandemic. Of course vacancies are going to be higher, so I would like to see something from the pre-pandemic or projections as to what might happen now.”

Having the project proceed without ground-floor retail “would hurt La Jolla Boulevard,” Davidson added.

Trustee Glen Rasmussen said that with the “high rent Bird Rock commands,” he questioned whether a small business would survive at the location if it had retail. “To require retail in a place where the units will be small … is too much,” he said.

A motion for the project to return once trustees had heard more from the city failed. A motion to approve the project passed 9-2, with Davidson and trustee Joe Terry opposed.

Other LJCPA news

The La Jolla Community Planning Association meets Feb. 2 online.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association meets Feb. 2 online.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Committee review: LJCPA President Diane Kane said she has been working with the association’s joint committees to look at the ordinances under their jurisdiction to see if they would like to submit any suggested modifications to the city during the current code update cycle.

For example, she said she asked the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee to “take a look at the PDO and address some of the items that keep coming up and see if there are changes that need to be made.”

Next meeting: The La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at a location to be determined. Learn more at ◆