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Another dispute erupts with La Jolla Shores development

A resolution regarding development in La Jolla Shores has resulted in yet another dispute between the office of San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre and a city department.

Disagreement exists within the La Jolla Community Planning Association, too, about whether citywide base zone restrictions should be applied to the La Jolla Shores planned district. The base zones regulate development through fixed numerical values for things such as floor area ratios and setbacks on residential lots, as opposed to the planned district ordinance, which regulates through more judgemental terms that seek to establish continuity within the neighborhood.

The question now appears to be over whether the two approaches are in conflict with each other. Rob Whittemore, a trustee of the Community Planning Association, believes they are not and that the specific guidelines of the base zones should be applied in addition to the restrictions in the planned district ordinance.

Planning Association trustee Phil Merten disagrees. He believes that the discretionary approach of the planned district ordinance and the numerical restrictions in the base zones are in conflict with each other, and that the planned district ordinance takes precedence when conflict exists.

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The debate has reached downtown, where Aguirre’s office sent a memo to the development services department agreeing with Whittemore’s analysis and asking that the base zones be applied to La Jolla Shores.

Marcella Escobar-Eck, director of development services, replied with a memo disagreeing with Aguirre and saying that his opinion would change how planned district ordinances work throughout the city.

Base zoning laws that were created in San Diego in the 1950s set specific guidelines for home building that included limitations on floor area ratio, which is the size of a structure in relation to the lot upon which it is built. For lots between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet, the maximum floor area ratio was set at .6, meaning that the maximum size of a home on a 5,000 square foot lot would be 3,000 square feet. The zoning laws also set guidelines for setbacks, which specify how far back a home must be built from the edge of its lot.

In 1974, La Jollans created the La Jolla Shores planned district ordinance, which attempted to regulate development through more judgmental terms such as mandating that homes be built with a rambling silhouette and that the neighborhood should strive for variety in its development but with a sense of unity.

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Merten says the two approaches conflict and that the planned district ordinance should prevail.

“In my opinion, Mr. Whittemore just doesn’t recognize that building bulk and scale is controlled and managed by the PDO,” Merten said. “In many ways, it’s more difficult to do a project under the PDO.”

Merten noted that the PDO requires 30 percent of a building site be devoted to green landscaping, a requirement that is not present in the base zones. He said that the requirements in the base zones such as those for building setbacks are managed by the planned district ordinance by requiring that projects conform with other lots in the neighborhood.

“One must do a study and look at the adjacent properties,” Merten said.

Whittemore said that the analysis of the development services department that applying base zones to the La Jolla planned district would affect other planned districts in the city was incorrect. He said most planned district ordinances contain specific numerical restrictions on things like floor area ratio, while La Jolla’s does not.

“If they have a chart specifying floor area ratios, then clearly the PDO is in control,” he said. “That’s the way in almost all of them.”

The matter has not come before the Community Planning Association.

Whittemore said he thought it will now have to be settled downtown.

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“It’s now a fight between the City Attorney and the director of the development services department,” he said.

He predicted that the issue would not come to a head until a project came through the pipeline that made it through the review of the planned district ordinance that exceeded the restrictions in the base zones.

“I think what will happen is a test case will come through, a large home that’s way beyond the FARs,” he said.

Merten said he considered the issue dead, and noted that the planned district ordinance includes a design review committee charged with encouraging good design and appropriate neighborhod development.

“There’s a certain expertise that’s not required under the base zones,” he said.