Community groups reject three-story project behind Vons


By Pat Sherman

Members of La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO) and Development Permit Review (DPR) city advisory committees declined to approve a mixed-used project on Girard Avenue, proposed for land currently used as Vons’ rear parking lot.

On Jan. 8 the DPR voted against approval of a coastal development permit (CDP) and map waiver (deviation) for the proposed three-story project, which would include eight residential units and one 5,125-square- foot, ground-floor commercial space.

The PDO committee argued that La Jolla’s planned district ordinance (the community’s blueprint for development) restricts development to two stories in its commercial zone.

The groups also expressed concern about the “very dark color” of the project. La Jolla’s planned district ordinance calls for avoiding dark colors in favor of earth tones, pastels and other light colors.

DPR chairman Paul Benton likened the project to the Bird Rock Station development, proposed for the northwest corner La Jolla Boulevard and Bird Rock Avenue. Following community uproar over that project — initially proposed as three stories — the developer made concessions to limit the project’s perceived height to two stories by moving its parking garage underground.

“This is kind of the problem when somebody comes into the area and they’re really not familiar with La Jolla planning,” Benton said. “Everybody knows the height limit is 30 feet. ... The (Girard Avenue developer) designed it thinking he could go to three stories, because it fit within 30 feet. ... The planned district ordinance clearly states that you cannot go to three stories.”

City staff told the applicant that the only method of achieving three stories is to apply for a deviation to the planned district ordinance, which Benton said is approved in “special cases if members of the community think it’s a good idea.”

Benton said a deviation and a variance are commonly confused, the latter of which requires a hardship. While a developer does not have to prove a hardship to obtain a deviation, it must be demonstrated that the project conforms to the community’s character and does not create environmental impacts such as view blockages, parking problems or incompatible occupancies, Benton said.

Though DPR members generally liked the project’s “modern” and “leading-edge” design, and had no problems with proposed tandem parking, they found its location next to Vons could be considered an “incompatible adjacent use.”

“What they’ve done is they’ve shown that Vons doesn’t really need that (employee) parking lot anymore,” Benton said. “That’s how they justified selling it (to the applicant).”

Benton said the DPR committee would like to see the developer return with a two- story design, though that would most likely reduce the number of residential units.

Philip Quatrino, owner of PQ Design Studio, which presented the project to the advisory groups, said he is not certain whether the developer will ask him to present an alternate design to the La Jolla Community Planning Association or DPR at a later date.

“We’ve already had two unanimous approvals on the project and then low-and-behold the three-story height limit thing popped up, which caught everybody by surprise,” he said. “Right now we’re still weighing our options, looking at the design and trying to figure out our next course of action.”