‘We could really stop this’: Bird Rock residents look to fight Adelante Townhomes project

Former San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner speaks against the Adelante Townhomes project proposed for Bird Rock.
Former San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner speaks against the Adelante Townhomes project proposed for Bird Rock.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Opponents of the planned 14-unit development urge the community to ‘push back’ with San Diego decision-makers and raise the possibility of an appeal or even legal action.


Some Bird Rock residents are on a mission to slow or stop the Adelante Townhomes project proposed for La Jolla Boulevard.

At the Bird Rock Community Council meeting April 4, opponents of the 14-unit development stated their interest in taking their objections to the city of San Diego, appealing any city decisions that go in the applicant’s favor and even pursuing legal action.

Adelante Townhomes developer Murfey Co. is seeking a coastal development permit to demolish an office building and construct a two-story 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 14 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 La Jolla Boulevard.

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

During two hearings by the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee in December, 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.

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

In February, the La Jolla Community Planning Association board voted 9-2 to support the townhomes proposal. But the following month, 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 and reconsider whether certain incentives and waivers the applicant team was planning to use would apply for the project.

Lightner had objected to LJCPA about the project being considered first by the Development Permit Review Committee and then the Planned District Ordinance Committee — out of the conventional order — and what she called its “misuse” of a housing density bonus, incentives and waivers that would allow it to proceed without ground-floor retail.

On March 13, the Planned District Ordinance Committee changed its vote from January, when it supported the project though it determined the plan does not conform to the PDO because of the lack of ground-floor retail. Upon re-review, the committee determined simply that the project does not conform to the PDO.

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.

Then on March 21, the Development Permit Review Committee — which had voted in December to support the proposal — was unable to reach a decision and asked the applicant team to return this month for a possible vote.

Since those recent reviews, the city issued a letter containing comments from various staff members, outside agencies and community planners. All issues in the report must be addressed to move to a final decision.

After reading the letter, Lightner told the Bird Rock Community Council this month that she has additional questions about how the building heights are being measured, whether the setbacks are sufficient, whether certain environmental provisions are being met and whether the city has been accurately informed about the project.

She said the letter contains references to the cost of “rents,” which she interpreted as the city thinking “these are going to be rentals, because they use that term.” However, since the units are being offered for sale instead of rent, she said that could impact whether certain waivers could be applied.

Lightner said the city is waiting for the La Jolla Community Planning Association to weigh in again before proceeding, which won’t happen until May at the earliest. The DPR Committee is expected to re-review the project this month and issue a finding for LJCPA to ratify or review further at its May meeting.

The city has different development processes depending on the complexity of a project. Adelante Townhomes is considered Process 4, which means that after local groups and city staff conduct reviews and make recommendations, the development will go before the San Diego Planning Commission. The commission’s decision can be appealed to the City Council.

Some foes of the Adelante proposal said they might be willing to take further action if needed.

Resident Don Schmidt said the project “is going to happen if you let it happen. But if you raise a stink … we could really stop this. The city put millions of dollars into this community to make this community walkable … so how is it going to look when they pass this through? ... I think the community has to push back.”

He added that some community members would be willing to appeal if the project makes it through the city process.

BRCC Vice President Joe Parker, a lawyer, asked whether a writ of mandamus could be filed should the city decide in favor of Adelante. A writ of mandamus is a ruling from a court ordering a government official to properly fulfill official duties or correct an abuse of discretion. When Lightner said it had been done before, Parker said, “That’s all I needed to hear.”

After the meeting, Murfey Co. partner Russ Murfey told the La Jolla Light that “it is the city’s job to confirm that the proposed project complies with all applicable codes. We have been working diligently with city staff and the community to make sure the project will comply.”

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