Contentious Shores mixed-use project denied again

By Pat Sherman

Despite some praise for the exterior design of a revised, three-story, mixed-use project proposed for La Jolla Shores’ commercial zone, La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) trustees once again rejected the Whitney project at 2202 and 2206 Avenida de la Playa.

Property owners Bob and Kim Whitney are seeking coastal and site development permits to demolish two existing structures in the three-block commercial zone along Avenida de la Playa. The project would include a subterranean parking garage, and a car elevator — a feature that was added in response to safety concerns about cars accelerating out of the garage via a ramp, from which pedestrians on the sidewalk would have been partially obscured from sight.

In November, the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee found that the revised plans were still out of character and form in relation to other mixed-use buildings in the area — particularly the Whitneys’ two upper-level residential stories.

Though the commercial zone includes other large buildings, LJCPA trustees argue those buildings were mostly developed before the creation of the La Jolla Shores Design Manual and La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance — which were created largely to prevent such large-scale projects from engulfing other structures in the low-lying, residential beach enclave.

Project Architect Tim Martin argued that although the La Jolla Shores commercial zone allows for 100 percent lot coverage for mixed-use projects, the Whitney’s project is heavily articulated and includes setbacks on three sides to reduce the impact of its size.

“I challenge anybody to find a building that’s more articulated in La Jolla,” he said, noting that two requested visibility triangles were added to the project on Avenida de la Playa, to increase safety.

Attorney Julie Hamilton argued that the project would be “significantly larger” than another projects developed since the adoption of the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance in 1974.

“If you allow this project to go forward at this size, then you are setting a baseline condition for every other project on Avenida de la Playa to come forward with a similarly large project,” she said. “It’s going to significantly change the character of this commercial center, something that many, many people worked very hard to protect.”

Hamilton said the project also requires a variance from the city — though Whitney said he initially requested a variance from the city, and was told one was not required.

The northern border of the project faces Calle Clara — a hybrid roadway that is a cross between an alley and a street. Were it clearly defined as a street, it would require additional visibility triangles at driveways and corners along Calle Clara.

However the city has chosen not to require visibility triangles along Calle Clara. San Diego project manager Tim Daley said the city engineer has “the sole discretion to allow deviations to the municipal code requirements and design guidelines,” on a case-by-case basis.

Whitney argued that his project is larger than others in the area because he has a larger lot (50 feet by 80 feet), but that his setbacks are also greater than most other buildings on Avenida de la Playa.

We’ve listened to the community,” Whitney said. “It may not be everything you want, but we’ve tried to make this thing work for the community, as well as for the reason we bought it — for our family. We’ve sold our house; we plan on moving into this. We’re not going to sell it.”

La Jolla architect Michael Morton said La Jolla Shores commercial zone is a miniscule area in relation to the rest of the Shores, and the project not worth quibbling over.

“When La Jolla Shores was developed back in the 1950s it was small-scale, low one-story homes. It has completely changed into an urban beach community,” he said. “It is time to let this project be approved and move on. There’s many other issues in La Jolla that are much more important than this one building.”

Trustee Joe LaCava said the two most admired buildings on Avenida de la Playa were controversial when they were first built. “Someone got that chance to be disruptive and made a change for the better,” he said, though noting that he would only support the Whitney project if the top two stories are set back another five feet on the east side.

In the end, the LJCPA voted not to approve the project by a vote of 13-3-2.