Due to lack of a quorum, the City Planning Commission June 19 once again postponed consideration of Bird Rock Station, a mixed-use project to build a three-story structure in the heart of the community’s commercial district with a boutique grocery store on the ground level with two floors of condos on top. The matter has been rescheduled for July 17.
Tim Golba, former La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) president who stepped down recently to join the Planning Commission, recused himself from hearing the issue.
The controversial project had been continued from the June 12 Planning Commission hearing when both project developers and opponents of the proposal gave organized presentations to commissioners. That meeting was postponed when one of the commissioners had to leave early and there was no longer a quorum of four of seven commission members.
On June 12, city staff told commissioners a number of administrative conditions are required to launch the commercial development including a coastal development permit, a site development permit, a planned development permit and a tentative map. Envisioned is construction of a 20,507-square-foot, three-story, mixed-use development consisting of 11 residential units and seven commercial units, including two levels of underground parking and a loading area on the 0.37-acre site at the corner of Bird Rock Avenue and La Jolla Boulevard.
On June 5, LJCPA voted 7-4-1 to deny the project on grounds that it does not comply with Bird Rock’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO), the community’s blueprint for commercial development. Community planners also opposed the project, contending developers have not proved their case that the project would provide sufficient public benefit to justify allowing two exceptions to the Bird Rock PDO: a third story and street access from Bird Rock Avenue rather than an alley behind the project site.
Project owner/developer Michael Krambs testified at the June 12 commission hearing that community planners are biased against his project because of its third-story component, which he argued is necessary for the project to be economically viable as well as aesthetically pleasing.
“Given the current makeup and constituency of the CPA,” said Krambs, “the outcome of their vote was never in doubt.”
Krambs, however, added he was surprised at the end of the June 5 CPA when a number of local residents spoke to him privately indicating they felt the project had been designed well. He said: “Most of the people who talked to us, though they had been ardent supporters of the no-three-stories position, said they really liked our project and wished there was a way they could support it.”
Three stories does not mean greater density for Bird Rock Station, said Krambs. “Frankly, I’m very sympathetic to those concerns,” he said. “Our project does not propose an increase in density, and three stories are needed for the articulation in the design.”
First District Council candidate Sherri Lightner, Martin Bunzl and Darcy Ashley, both of the Bird Rock Community Council, gave an organized presentation to commissioners attempting to convince them that the project is deficient and out of character with its community.
“Since 2006, the (Bird Rock) community has soundly rejected two different zoning changes to allow three stories in the Planning District,” said Lightner. “This project seeks to circumvent the will of the community and the existing zoning regulations. It would bust the PDO with a significant, de facto zoning change. The San Diego Municipal Code does not allow use of deviations for design that is inconsistent with the intent of the zone base. The intent of the base zone is clear: it is two stories.”
“Existing three-story building on La Jolla Boulevard were built predating the adoption of the PDO,” pointed out Bunzl, “or exploited loopholes to allow basements incorporating three stories. Asking for a (PDO) deviation so this project can be three stories is a misrepresentation. The same (public) benefits would occur with two stories.”
“Having a third story on this project is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” testified Darcy Ashley, who lives immediately behind the proposed development. “Deny this project and have the applicants come back with a two-story project.”
Bird Rock architect Mark Lyon, who is designing the mixed-use Bird Rock Station project for Krambs, told commissioners the project would be better with the two PDO deviations being requested than without.
“The key is three stories,” said Lyon. “It allows a smaller footprint. With a smaller mass and smaller footprint, it allows the project to offer pedestrian spaces and plazas creating a more open, human scale for pedestrians and shoppers, so they can interact better with the building, walking in, around and through it. Merchant spaces are also allowed to be more three-dimensional, instead of having just a wall of glass on the street.”
Lyon presented a list of more than a dozen items which project applicants claim present tangible public benefits to the Bird Rock Community. That list, among other things, includes: parking spaces, 20 more than are required; a local grocery store; improved security; environmental clean up of the project site which was once a gas station; public plazas and landscaping; and a commercial loading area.
“We’ll turn this site into a vibrant, commercial project instead of a dirt lot with a green fence around it,” said Lyon.