New stumbling block? La Jolla committee decides to reconsider its support of La Casa de los Amigos project
The next step isn’t certain after the Development Permit Review Committee votes to revisit the issue following a resident’s objections over the roof structure on a proposed new house on the historic property.
It appears the saga of La Casa de los Amigos isn’t over yet.
After voting June 13 to support a controversial project to demolish the nearly 100-year-old blufftop “Friends House” in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa neighborhood and replace it with a nearly 10,000-square-foot residence, the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee decided a week later to reconsider its support, citing a new interpretation of information about the roof structure on the new house.
The street frontage would stay the same, and the planned new home’s size has been reduced by about 800 square feet.
The when and where remain unknown.
On June 13, applicant representative Matthew Segal said the latest design — a revision following meetings with local preservationists — would keep the street frontage at 6110 Camino de la Costa the same “in its entirety … including the garage structure, and the house would be secondary to that” to preserve the existing public view.
The design of the new house was slightly altered to open up a wall and create a line of sight to the ocean from the street, and the home’s overall size was reduced by about 800 square feet from the original 10,567.
DPR trustees voted 5-1 at that meeting to support the project, which they decided is consistent with the La Jolla Community Plan. Trustee Angeles Leira cast the lone dissenting vote, and Chairman Brian Will customarily abstained.
But at the conclusion of regular business during its June 20 meeting and after a brief discussion, the committee passed a motion to revisit its previous vote of support. Any future vote must happen at a noticed meeting that would occur in coming weeks.
The DPR decided to revisit the issue after receiving a letter from La Jollan Phil Merten arguing that certain aspects of the project didn’t comply with the San Diego municipal code. Primarily, Merten said, “the applicant’s drawings erroneously labeled two 1-foot-thick, 5-foot-wide [and] 22-foot- and 27-foot-tall roof supporting structures within the northern side yard setback as ‘chimneys’.”
Merten argued that the structures as presented do not meet the municipal code definition of a chimney.
Further, he said a separate portion of the project was described as a “roof eave” and therefore exempt from applicable height limits. “Roof eaves are exempt, but this portion of the structure is not a roof eave,” Merten contended.
Typically, a vote by the DPR Committee proceeds to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification or further review. The issue would be placed on the consent agenda, which consists of items typically approved without discussion. However, an item can be pulled from the consent agenda for full review.
Acting DPR Chairman Greg Jackson told the La Jolla Light after the June 20 meeting that the choices about what to do next depend largely on whether the project is pulled for a full hearing. If that happens, LJCPA could hear the full presentation at its July meeting, send it back to the DPR for another hearing in July, or postpone the LJCPA hearing to August.
LJCPA President Harry Bubbins did not respond to the Light’s request for comment.
The project has been discussed and debated several times since it was originally presented in November, when Segal said La Casa de los Amigos’ footings and foundation are failing, making it unsafe.
He said he and his father and business partner, Jonathan Segal, originally wanted to remodel and preserve the house, which dates to 1924. However, the Local Coastal Program adopted in the 1970s, which serves as a planning document for coastal communities, requires a 40-foot distance between a structure and a bluff.
Matthew Segal said 60 percent of the house — including the living room, dining room, basement, two bedrooms and the dormer — is in the setback area and would need to be removed as part of any renovation.
At the time, Alexander Llerandi, a California Coastal Commission coastal program analyst, said “non-conforming segments should be removed.”
Though the Coastal Commission did not expressly require that the entire house come down, the Segals argued it didn’t make sense to keep it. Thus, they proposed to tear down La Casa de los Amigos and build the new residence.
The Segals sought historic designation for the old house in hopes of getting clear guidance from the Coastal Commission and the city of San Diego on what they could do there.
In March, two months after the San Diego Historical Resources Board designated the property, the Segals decided to move forward with their plans for demolition and new construction, saying possible alternatives had not panned out.
Matthew Segal has said the applicants would provide historical documentation about La Casa de los Amigos and take other measures to help record its notable features. The documents would be saved in an archive likely connected to city historical resources.
On March 14, the Development Permit Review Committee tied in a vote on whether to support the Segals’ project.
The following week, rather than vote on the project itself, the DPR voted to send the Historical Resources Board a list of possible alternatives to demolition:
• Lift the house to build new footings and put the house back in place
• Move the house to a comparable lot
• Preserve the north wing of the house
• Move the whole wing to the front of the house and rebuild on the rest of the available lot
A fifth option, to proceed with the project as presented, also was considered and is ultimately what is being sought.
On April 5, the HRB’s design assistance subcommittee said it was not yet able to make an informed decision about the viability of the alternatives, pending city staff’s review of an engineering report the Segals needed to submit.
Matthew Segal said in mid-June that “we are rapidly trying to get [the document issue] resolved, [but] there is a lot more documentation that needs to be completed,” which he said could take months or even a year. ◆
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