With retail added, Adelante Townhomes proposal goes back to Bird Rock council, with no decision
Murfey Co.’s plan now includes about 1,100 square feet of ground-floor retail space, but critics of the project aren’t swayed.
The developer’s reversal of a controversial decision to exclude ground-floor retail in the proposed Adelante Townhomes project in Bird Rock wasn’t enough to get a vote of support from the Bird Rock Community Council during a new hearing Sept. 5.
After two hours of discussion, the BRCC board could not reach a decision and agreed to take up the conversation again next month. BRCC also did not vote when first presented with the project in November.
Applicant Murfey Co. seeks to demolish an office building and construct a 13-unit townhome building (down from 14) with a basement, 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 developments be reserved for retail in Zone 4, which includes La Jolla Boulevard.
The lack of ground-floor commercial offerings has been an issue of contention since the project was first proposed last fall. In subsequent community hearings, opponents have questioned whether waivers and incentives being used to bypass the retail requirement were being applied correctly.
Since Nov. 1, the project has gone through a series of reviews and re-reviews by the BRCC, La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee, Planned District Ordinance Committee and Community Planning Association. It won final support from LJCPA in May and was to proceed to higher levels of review by the city of San Diego.
However, at the Sept. 5 BRCC meeting, Murfey Co. presented a revised version of the project including about 1,100 square feet of ground-floor retail on the corner of La Jolla Boulevard and Forward Street, as well as a redesign of the residential unit at that corner to be one story over the retail space. The company also designed an entrance to the retail space at sidewalk level that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Murfey Co. representatives previously said including retail was not financially viable. In explaining the decision to add retail, company principal Russ Murfey said his family’s roots “are firmly planted in Bird Rock” and that “we’re [adding a commercial space] as a nod to the community. We recognize that retail is very important and that a 100 percent residential project would be concerning to the merchant community.”
“We’re listening, but there is a balance there,” he added. “We have struck what we think is the right balance.”
But some people attending the meeting argued that the space for retail should be expanded to close to 3,000 square feet to be more in line with the La Jolla PDO.
Others said having the majority of the retail facing Forward Street rather than La Jolla Boulevard also is problematic.
But for many, the worry is the precedent that might be set for developers seeking a waiver to remove or reduce retail components in future projects, minimizing the retail presence on La Jolla Boulevard.
“My concern is the precedential effect and how the project will change the character of our neighborhood,” said BRCC Vice President Joe Parker.
“We’re listening, but there is a balance there. We have struck what we think is the right balance.”
— Russ Murfey
During the discussion, some argued that the current presence of vacant or in-transition properties suggests more retail is not needed. Others contended the retail community is thriving.
BRCC President Joe Terry said “the Bird Rock commercial district contributes significantly to the greater Bird Rock community and helps make it a special place to live, work and visit.”
He added that work done to make Bird Rock more walkable has “resulted in the formation and ongoing operation of the Bird Rock Maintenance Assessment District and the city [of San Diego’s] multimillion-dollar traffic calming in the commercial district, which have greatly benefited the community as a whole.”
Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, argued that “there is too much retail on [La Jolla] Boulevard right now. … It’s very difficult to do business on this boulevard. We need to draw people from outside the community to actually sustain the businesses that are here.”
Patton added that several “great operators” have closed in recent years because they didn’t have the “critical mass” to survive. “For as long as I have been here, that has been a constant thing,” he said.
Bird Rock Merchants Group President Craig Bender countered that merchants “have never seen it so busy. … The vacancies have decreased dramatically. The boulevard is pretty full right now.”
While some asked whether more retail could be added to the Adelante Townhomes project, Murfey said putting in any more than 1,100 square feet would mean the loss of one parking place for the building.
Local resident Janette Williams cited a discussion during the July 10 La Jolla PDO Committee meeting in which committee Chairwoman Deborah Marengo said that in speaking with real estate agents who focus on retail, she asked about the “perfect size” for a retail space that could rent easily in today’s market. “They said 700 square feet would lease all day long,” Marengo said.
Williams said that seems to make 1,100 square feet the “high end” for the size of future commercial spaces.
Other speakers questioned whether the project’s two stories are being appropriately measured and whether the basement should count as a third story. Murfey countered that the measurements were made correctly and that the project would not gain traction with the city if they were incorrect.
“We have no interest in trying to circumvent laws or work the system,” Murfey said. “We proposed a project that has quality design, meets the community goals of having a retail component, meets the state guidelines of trying to provide housing, and we’re fitting it all in one box. We have a project that complies.”
The project will be discussed again at BRCC’s next meeting, “and then the board will decide whether to endorse the project with the proposed changes,” Terry said.
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at a location to be determined. Learn more at birdrockcc.org. ◆
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