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Developer says Bird Rock ordinance debate not all-inclusive

A community planner urged Bird Rock to reconsider moving ahead with a form-based code for its planned district ordinance revision, while the developer of a controversial, three-story mixed-use project charged that the planning process is not inclusive enough.

Those were the highlights of a Feb. 6 public meeting in which the dialogue over how best to update Bird Rock’s planned district ordinance, the community’s blueprint for future commercial development along La Jolla Boulevard, continued.

Architects Michael Stepner and Howard Blackson have been commissioned by Council President Scott Peters to work with the Bird Rock Community to update its planned district ordinance. Stepner was present Feb. 6 to answer the public’s questions.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, Michael Krambs, the developer of Bird Rock Station, a proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Bird Rock Avenue and La Jolla Boulevard now a vacant lot, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the planning process is progressing with the ordinance.

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“We were all told that Mike and Howard would come in and work with the commercial property owners, residential property owners and merchants to come up with a code that balanced the needs and interests of all the disparate groups,” said Krambs. “I really applauded that approach. But what’s happened is some fairly substantive changes to the report Mike and Howard came up with has been made by the Bird Rock Community Council without any input of the commercial property owners and the merchants. This is just not the spirit of fairness in America.”

Krambs pointed out legal issues could be involved with the debate, namely, people’s property rights. He offered a suggestion for what might be done to make the planning process with the ordinance revision more representative. “I would like to see a process to reestablish an independent neutral body,” he said, “not the Bird Rock Community Council, that essentially brings together all of the interest groups and comes up with a property code that balances the needs of all groups, not the residential groups dictating to the commercial property owners.”

Bird Rock Community Council member Darcy Ashley also expressed doubts at the meeting with the present planning process, passing out a blue flyer arguing against adopting a form-based code. She argues, instead, that the community ought to go back to the “Bird Rock 12,” a set of amendments originally adopted by the Bird Rock Community Council spelling out specific changes to the ordinance.

“People have talked about preventing another Seahaus,” said Ashley. “But there’s nothing to say you can’t clone and end up with more Seahauses. It’s the same building over and over. I don’t think the form-based code really protects against that.”

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Ashley said there’s an old saying that says good builders will build good projects, whatever the code is, and bad builders will build bad ones. She added change and commercial development are going to happen within the community. “We need to be prepared for it,” she said. “But the one thing that really encourages me is how vital our current PDO is. It’s a relevant document 25 years after it was adopted. This is really a viable alternative. It takes courage. It’s very difficult to step back and say, ‘Is this (form-based code) really worth it?’ It really may not be for us.”

From the beginning of their consultation, architects Stepner and Blackson have lobbied in favor of using a form-based code, a relatively new planning procedure which graphically depicts what can and can’t be allowed in terms of commercial development. Form-based code differs from standard land-use zoning in that it seeks to encourage good design or architecture, rather than regulating by restricting uses, which is the standard approach.

The form-based code approach calls for regulating each commercial parcel along La Jolla Boulevard by type, with increasing of intensity and complexity working from the outside in, from the outer edges of the commercial zone toward the center. Development along the corners of each block would be different than the middle, where creation of new public spaces would be required.

Three stories of development within the form-based code would be allowed, but would be restricted to specified areas mid-block in the commercial center. Developers would have to provide public space in exchange for limited three-story development.

Stepner also made available a yellow sheet of paper addressing a laundry list of questions posed by community members at a previous meeting on the form-based code held Jan. 23. At that time, the community opted to delay an up-or-down vote on the form-based code, saying they’d not been given time enough to consider the code in all its complexity and with all its ramifications.

Asked why three stories was added to the architects’ proposal when the community was so overwhelmingly opposed to such development, architects replied any element that could be found in La Jolal was deemed worthy of consideration. They pointed out there are already three-story buildings existing in Bird Rock on both the commercial and residential side. They also noted it’s possible to “bury” a three-story element within a building.

“What came across loud and clear through the community meetings is that bulk and scale and density and intensity are the issues,” the architects concluded.

Bird Rock form-based code public meeting schedule

Saturday, Feb. 24 9-11 a.m. Masonic Lodge, 5655 La Jolla Blvd.

Monday, Feb. 26 6-8 p.m. Masonic Lodge, 5655 La Jolla Blvd.

Tuesday, March 6 community dinner meeting Midori Sushi.

Tuesday, March 20 final community meeting Bird Rock Elementary Auditorium< />