Adelante Townhomes project undergoes additional La Jolla review, and more is on the way

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

The Planned District Ordinance Committee changes its previous vote of support and the Development Permit Review Committee delays a new vote pending more information on a list of items.


It looks like the local review journey for the Adelante Townhomes project in Bird Rock is not yet over. After the La Jolla Community Planning Association rescinded its support for the development in early March and asked the applicant team to return to the Planned District Ordinance and Development Permit Review committees, the project made the rounds again.

However, the DPR Committee was unable to reach a decision during its March 21 hearing and asked the applicant team to return in April for a possible vote.

The project by developer Murfey Co. calls for 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.

The background

In a change from normal procedure, the development got the support of the Development Permit Review Committee in December and the Planned District Ordinance Committee in January (proposals typically have to get the PDO Committee’s approval first).

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

During previous hearings, some speakers said the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance’s requirement for retail space 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.

In February, the Community Planning Association board voted 9-2 to support the townhomes proposal. The following month, however, the board took back the approval after hearing new objections from former San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner and asked its subcommittees to re-review the development in the conventional order and reconsider whether certain incentives and waivers the applicant team was planning to use would apply for this project.

Ryan Wynn, Murfey Co. director of development, leads a discussion about the Adelante Townhomes project March 13.
Ryan Wynn, Murfey Co. director of development, leads a discussion about the Adelante Townhomes project during the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee’s March 13 meeting at the La Jolla Recreation Center.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

PDO feedback

Like its parent organization, the PDO Committee changed its vote during its March 13 meeting. Originally, the board determined that the project does not conform to the Planned District Ordinance because of the lack of ground-floor retail but the board still supported it. Upon re-review, the committee determined simply that the project does not conform to the PDO.

During an hour of public and trustee debate, several concerns that were previously raised were revisited, including the lack of ground-floor retail. New concerns, such as the waivers and incentives being used, also were raised.

Lightner had objected to LJCPA about the project’s unconventional approval process and its proposed use of a density bonus that would allow it to proceed without ground-floor retail.

“Since the Adelante Townhomes are a for-sale condominium development, they are allowed by the [San Diego municipal code] to have a 6 percent density bonus, resulting in an additional 0.54 dwelling units — for a total of 10 dwelling units — and one incentive for providing an affordable dwelling unit onsite,” she said. “[But] not [a] density bonus with 13 dwelling units and the two incentives claimed.”

The applicant team, while acknowledging that the project does not conform to the PDO, said it is relying on the incentives and waivers to meet state building codes.

“We do comply with all the standards set forth by the San Diego municipal code and the state housing laws for density bonuses,” said Ryan Wynn, Murfey Co. director of development.

As such, he said, the company is allowed two incentives and there is no limit to the number of waivers an applicant can seek; it is up to the city as to how many they approve.

The team said it earned the incentives by offering an affordable unit in the development, which Murfey Co. partner Russ Murfey previously said “is incorporating much-needed affordable housing as well as additional housing into a supply-constrained market.”

“We really love this project,” Wynn said. “We feel like it really complements the existing character of Bird Rock. Architects have really labored to put materials that we think will complement the area … things that are memorialized in the PDO. We’re proud of how it has turned out.”

PDO Committee member Joe Terry — who also is an LJCPA trustee and voted against the development when it was heard there — questioned the use of some of the incentives and whether the city erred in granting them. “It appears three incentives are needed to ignore the following three PDO regulations: Retail use is required on the ground floor, resident access shall be restricted on the ground floor, and the floor area ratio [a building’s total floor area relative to the size of the lot].” He added that the PDO “does not provide for either a density bonus or associated incentives.”

He argued that the incentives and waivers the applicant is using don’t apply because the affordable unit “must be comparable to the other units” and this one is not. He said the affordable unit is “smaller than the others, is in the back so it does not have the ocean view, [and] is on the ground floor.”

“There is no question it is a nice-looking project and is good in many ways,” Terry said. “But the question here is whether it applies with the Planned District. It does not.”

Lightner also questioned whether the city was aware that the townhomes would be for sale when it granted Murfey Co. the waivers.

“They gave you a 35 percent bonus density that is for rental [units],” she said. “With for-sale units, the city only allows you [to use an incentive for] moderate-income units.”

She reiterated that “maybe you should only have 10 [market-rate] units” instead of 13.

A motion determining that the project does not comply with the PDO passed 6-0, with trustee Japhet Estrada abstaining without comment.

DPR review

The following week, the Development Permit Review Committee reviewed the project March 21 to determine whether “we stand by our original vote [in favor of the development and] that we like increasing residential [development in the] area, at the possible expense of commercial,” said Chairman Brian Will.

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

After a discussion about the incentives and waivers similar to that at the PDO meeting, Lightner said, “The applicant has addressed some [city] issues by using more waivers … but there needs to be a letter from the Housing Commission [indicating] you have been granted that density bonus, because it has a huge impact on the size and character of the project.”

However, Will said any approval of the use of incentives and waivers is “for the city to decide” and is beyond the DPR Committee’s purview.

Russ Murfey agreed, saying, “We won’t get any further with the city of San Diego if we don’t comply with the municipal code. We wouldn’t be wasting our time if we didn’t comply.”

But due to lingering questions about the project and the incentives and waivers, Will prepared a list of items for the applicant to address when the committee meets in April. The board’s findings then will proceed to LJCPA in May for ratification or further review.

Murfey told the La Jolla Light that “the opposition is limited to a few vocal people providing misleading information about the project. The project has been applauded by the larger community. We respect the community groups and the process, so we are going back through the process, but it feels we are being unfairly dragged through the mud.” ◆