Planners approve townhomes, reject ‘Whale Watch’ plans

La Jolla community planners elect officers, vote to appeal Rushville Street determination

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) swore in six trustees during its April 2 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center, including: La Jolla Shores resident Dolores Donovan, architect Brian Will, current LJCPA trustee Janie Emerson (elected to a second three-year term) and former two-term LJCPA trustees Tom Brady, Jim Fitzgerald and David Little (each re-elected after a year off the board, as required by the organization’s bylaws).

LJCPA trustees make recommendations to the City of San Diego on development and infrastructure projects — particularly in regard to whether the projects comply with San Diego’s Land Development Code, the La Jolla Community Plan and other planning documents.

LJCPA president Joe LaCava noted that, unlike last year, there were no challenges filed following last month’s annual election.

Officers announced: During the meeting, LaCava was elected to a second term as board president, Cindy Greatrex as vice-president, Bob Steck as second vice-president, Helen Boyden re-elected as secretary and Jim Fitzgerald elected treasurer (a post he held before his one-year hiatus).

Administering the oath of office, San Diego City Council president and La Jolla resident Sherri Lightner joked, “I know some of you have been on this adventure before and I thank you for doing it again. … You will either go nuts or have a great time.”

In other LJCPA news

LJCPA trustees narrowly approved a canyon-hugging retaining wall in the Muirlands area and an 18-townhouse development proposed on the site of the soon-to-be demolished United States Postal Service annex at Silver Street and Draper Avenue — both by votes of 8-6-1.

Silver Street: Although the LJCPA’s Development Permit Review (DPR) subcommittee lauded the townhouse project, voting 5-1-1 in favor of it, several LJCPA trustees opposed the project April 2, siding with trustee David Little, who pulled it from last month’s consent agenda due to its lack of a ground-floor commercial component — a requirement of La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (or blueprint for development) which some believe is outdated for a neighborhood of primarily residential, recreational and cultural uses.

Voting in opposition to the gated community of two- to four-bedroom town homes of 1,800-2,600 square feet were: trustees Little, Emerson, Brady, Donovan, Ray Weiss and Fran Zimmerman.

Little said the project sets an unfavorable precedent by requiring “spot zoning,” stating his assertion that the applicant should have sought a variation instead of a deviation from the city (a point countered by project representative Matthew Peterson). To read more about the project, visit bit.ly/silverstreet

“I’m not unhappy with the project; I’m unhappy with the process,” Little maintained.

Trustee Fitzgerald, who said he was concerned by the removal of commercial space required where the Monarch Cottages Alzheimer’s facility is to be developed on Fay Avenue (before a compromise was struck), said he doesn’t have those same concerns with this project. He argued that requiring commercial space in this largely residential area made little sense, and that it would probably not be successful there.

The project will next go before the San Diego Planning Commission, and then ultimately be decided on by the City Council.

Bucknell Avenue: Despite concerns with how a proposed retaining wall would appear to residents across a canyon from it, LJCPA trustees voted to approve a site development permit for construction of a retaining wall tiered into nine- and six-foot-tall sections on a vacant lot at 5805 and 5817 Bucknell Ave. The DPR rejected the project in February by a vote of 5-4-1.

Property owner Shawn Tobias (who lives next door to the lot) argued that the city approved a wall for the previous owners when they demolished their home and planned to build a new one (though they abandoned those plans during the down economy).

Tobias said retaining walls on adjacent properties — including one unanimously approved by LJCPA — are taller than the one he is proposing. Whether a home is built on his property or it is sold to someone who plans to build a home, any development must first come before the LJCPA for review, he noted.

Although the proposed wall would be on environmentally sensitive lands, it is on a portion that has already been disturbed and grated, Tobias said. A flat portion between the two sections of retaining wall could be used to plant vegetation that would help camouflage it, he said.

Although trustee Weiss said one of the neighbor’s retaining walls looks imposing in online maps, Tobias argued, “We’re not building a fortress. We just want a yard.”

Whale Watch “No Way”: LJCPA trustees again rejected revisions for a futuristic La Jolla Shores home proposed at 8490 Whale Watch Way.

Citing the project’s bulk and scale, trustees said concessions made to to address their concerns have been too minor (some areas were shaved off the facade and a cluster of olive trees were added to provide privacy for neighbors to the east).

Architect Michael Morton said he worked on the house to the north of the site, which “almost dwarfs” the proposed home, arguing that the proposed structure is a modern interpretation of a courtyard home, the likes of which helped define the character of early La Jolla. Morton said it is an unavoidable reality that homes in the Shores are being built larger, driven by increasing land values and market demand.

“I think you have to look it not from the last century’s eye, but from this century’s eye,” he argued.

Phil Merten, who chairs the La Jolla Shores Permit Review committee (PRC), which has also rejected the project, said the 7,000-square-foot home has an interior courtyard of about 3,000 square feet that is not being counted. The project would have a much larger floor-area-ratio if the courtyard were included in the calculation, he said.

“Does the La Jolla Shores Design Manual require that you count the interior courtyard in the calculation of the square footage?” asked project representative Paul Metcalf.

“No, but Phil does,” fired La Jolla Shores resident Bob Whitney, whose own mixed-used project has been repeatedly rejected by the LJCPA and PRC. (The San Diego Planning Commission will consider Whitney’s three-story project at 2202 and 2206 Avenida de La Play again on April 16).

The San Diego Planning Commission approved the Whale Watch Way plans last summer, a decision later appealed by the LJCPA. The Planning Commission is slated to consider Whale Watch Way again in the near future, at a date to be determined. More at bit.ly/Whalewatchway

LJCPA to appeal Rushville: Despite the advice of president LaCava — who suggested trustees not appeal projects to the city in which the LJCPA has a slim chance of prevailing — trustees voted 12-1-1 to appeal a two-story home rebuild at 820 Rushville St. (directly across from the La Jolla High football field) which was rejected by the LJCPA’s Development Permit Review subcommittee 5-4-0, then subsequently approved by city staff.

“The (DPR) committee was split on it,” LaCava said. “It will be tough to make our case in front of the Planning Commission.”

Ed Comartin and Sary Frymann, who both ran for seats on the LJCPA board last month, argued in favor of an appeal.

“The architect never bothered to work with anybody, including this committee. They did not come before you,” Comartin said.

Frymann said the new home would include a 28-foot-high wall with no windows on one side and is out of character with early 1900s cottages in the neighborhood, though trustee Will countered that the character of Rushville Street has changed through the years and the project is a good fit. More at bit.ly/rushvillerebuild

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