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‘Pretty is not in the municipal code’: Bird Rock residents lament local approval of Adelante Townhomes

A rendering depicts the proposed Adelante Townhomes at 5575 La Jolla Blvd. in Bird Rock.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The 14-unit project has been facing criticism over its request for a waiver to a La Jolla Planned District Ordinance requirement that calls for ground-floor retail space.

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Bird Rock Community Council trustees and members of the public continued to express frustration this week with the planned Adelante Townhomes project following the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s vote to approve it earlier this month.

The project, which has faced criticism over its lack of ground-floor retail space, was discussed at length at the Community Council’s Feb. 7 meeting, with new BRCC President Joe Terry calling the LJCPA decision a “disappointment for a number of us.”

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 said the PDO requirement for retail on the ground floor should be honored. Others argued that the number of vacant storefronts along La Jolla Boulevard indicates more retail is not needed.

Ultimately, the DPR and Planned District Ordinance review committees lent their support to the project. LJCPA voted to support the development during its Feb. 2 meeting.

The plan was presented to the Bird Rock Community Council on Nov. 1, but it did not vote.

Throughout those hearings, some Bird Rock residents advocated for ground-floor retail.

“Most agree that the proposed project is attractive and thoughtfully designed,” Terry said. “However, it appears to be out of compliance with multiple city regulations that were put in place to protect the Bird Rock neighborhood” in terms of increased density and lack of ground-floor retail.

“Development standards were established for this part of Bird Rock to protect its unique characteristics, its walkability and specifically maintain retail outlets,” Terry said. “One problem is it is in conflict with affordable-housing regulations, which require the affordable unit be comparable to the other units in the complex in terms of bedrooms and amenities. ... The affordable unit is the smallest [in the complex].”

Applicant Russ Murfey was not at the Feb. 7 meeting and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bird Rock resident Sharon Wampler contended the local planning groups approved the development because “the city [of San Diego] is going to push it through. This has been a frustration for the community for a long time that things are getting approved because they will be approved by the city. Part of the challenge is we have the opportunity to build a better Bird Rock for the future, and there are initiatives in the works to do so, but commercial developers only develop one parcel at a time. … They aren’t thinking about community development, they are thinking about project development.”

She said she wants to engage developers in discussion about broader community improvement efforts so future developments may meet those standards.

Resident Darcy Ashley noted that other developments built in recent years complied with the PDO and that Adelante Townhomes is “very early on in the process. … The community doesn’t know what kind of response the city is going to have to the project and what they are going to require be changed.”

Don Schmidt argued that it was inappropriate for the local groups to review the project before city staff could provide comments. “There was no information [presented to local boards], but everyone said it was pretty. Pretty is not in the municipal code.”

He said the development would set a precedent for buildings without ground-floor retail and that it should go back for more local reviews once the city weighs in.

“If this thing gets built, there will be a domino effect,” Schmidt said. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but over the next 30 years, most of the commercial district will be gone.”

The Bird Rock Community Council meets Feb. 7 on Zoom.
The Bird Rock Community Council meets Feb. 7 on Zoom.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Other BRCC news

Short-term rental report: Bird Rock resident Trudy Grundland gave a brief presentation about what she said is a saturation of short-term rentals in one small area of Bird Rock. In recent weeks, Grundland sifted through city data that lists the addresses for which STVR licenses have been awarded and determined that out of 95 houses in her neighborhood, 17 were listed as short-term rentals, she said. Of those 17, 14 were purchased in the past four years, she added.

Grundland proposed a cap “on the most concentrated streets, so if someone applies on one of those streets … the city cannot give out more, and/or make certain streets more expensive [to operate on] and use a sliding scale based on density and/or provide the highest-priority enforcement to the areas that are most saturated.”

The board listened to her proposal but did not vote.

BirdStock recap: Given that the board did not meet in January, trustee Ariana Opsvig provided a recap of the revived BirdStock community block party that took place in December. Proceeds generated through donations, the sale of vendor booth space and a portion of sales from participating businesses go to the Bird Rock Foundation, which supports Bird Rock Elementary School.

Opsvig said she and her co-chairs “are really happy with the way it turned out. We felt like the school benefited, merchants reported they had great business … and we got positive feedback from the community.”

The festival, sponsored by the Bird Rock Community Council and Bird Rock Foundation, was held on La Jolla Boulevard between Midway Street and Camino de la Costa and featured music, shopping opportunities and a wreath decorating contest.

Opsvig said planning is already underway on the next BirdStock.

New leadership: During a BRCC executive board meeting held outside the monthly public board meetings, Terry was elected president after former President John Newsam termed out.

“Since committing to community activities not too many years back, [Terry] has already made substantial contributions and will, I am confident, do a super job in his role as BRCC president,” Newsam said in an email.

At the meeting, Terry said Newsam “put a lot of work into the board as president” and thanked him for it.

Next meeting: The Bird Rock Community Council next meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, at a venue to be determined, with Zoom access. Learn more at birdrockcc.org. ◆