Planners probe floor-area ratios in La Jolla Shores

Skylark Drive project sent back to Development Permit Review subcommittee for further evaluation

Whether floor-area ratios (FAR) should be taken into consideration for projects in La Jolla Shores was at the forefront during the Oct. 2 meeting of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA).

LJCPA trustees delved into FARs while reviewing a proposed home rebuild at 8352 La Jolla Shores Drive (the McClelland residence). In August, the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) voted 4-3 to recommend the city approve the project, although LJCPA trustee Dan Courtney felt the vote was too close, and pulled the project from the LJCPA’s September consent agenda for further discussion.

The applicant is seeking coastal and site development permits to demolish an existing home and rebuild a 4,060-square-foot, two-story house on a 5,500-square-foot lot — resulting in a .89 floor-area ratio.

A FAR, defined as the ratio of the size of a structure to the size of its lot, is used to manage density in residential and commercial development.

La Jolla Shores does not technically have floor-area ratio limits — something some Shores’ residents are pushing to change by updating the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance (or blueprint for design). Many Shores and La Jolla committee members feel that in the absence of this mandate the citywide FAR limit of .60 should apply (various city attorneys have weighed in differently on the matter, it was noted, with the current city attorney not recognizing a FAR limit in the Shores).

Defending the bulk and scale of his project, architect Richard Gombes noted that it has a generous setback from La Jolla Shores Drive and slopes down 3.5 feet westward from the sidewalk, diminishing the impact of the project from the street. Gombes also said the project has almost twice as much landscaping as is required by the city.

A covered, outdoor open area at the rear of the project pushed its FAR by .15 to .89, Gombes said.

However, LJCPA trustee Rob Whittemore said that without the covered space, the project would still have a .74 FAR, which is well above the citywide .60 limit.

“You’re still talking about a home that’s approximately 25 percent larger than would be allowed in other areas of the city that are controlled by citywide floor-area ratios,” Whittemore said, adding, “from the street there isn’t much of a difference from the houses around it — I concede that.”

Gombes said that in conducting a city-mandated survey of homes within a 300-foot radius of the project, he found that at least 20 of the 50 homes assessed had FARs of .74, while five had FARs of .90 or more.

LJCPA trustee Janie Emerson, a member of the PRC who voted against the project, said this section of La Jolla Shores Drive where the McClelland family owns two homes (including the project site) contains “huge houses” that do not conform to the character of the neighborhood and probably shouldn’t have been approved by the city. She said to the left of the project site the majority of the houses are single-story.

“Some of them have been remodeled and the people have kept them (single-story) because they want to keep the character of the neighborhood,” she said.

PRC Chair Phil Merten, who voted in favor of the project to break in initial 3-3 tie, said he did so out of fairness to the applicant.

“The existing houses on this block of La Jolla Shores Drive are larger than we’d like to see, but the horse was let out of the barn a number of years ago,” Merten said, noting that in many ways the proposed home has more articulation than those around it, helping to soften its impact.

LJCPA trustee Fran Zimmerman lauded the project’s design, though asked if it was possible to scale the home back to .6 FAR, which Gombes said was not workable.

A motion by LJCPA trustee Nancy Manno to approve the project (seconded by Zimmerman) failed by a vote of 7-8.

A second motion to deny the project was made by Whittemore and seconded by trustee Bob Collins, which resulted in a vote of 8-7. Vice-president Bob Steck, who presided over the meeting in the absence of LJCPA president Joe LaCava, created an 8-8 tie by voting in favor of the project. Thus, no action was taken on the project in view of the city.

Whale Watch … and wait: A controversial residential development proposed for the Shores, at 8490 Whale Watch Way, could undergo some community appeasing revisions.

During the Oct. 2 meeting it was noted that when considering the LJCPA’s appeal of the Whale Watch project to the San Diego Planning Commission, the commissioners were leaning toward denial of the project, though first offered the applicant a chance to redesign the ultra-modern style home by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Zaha Hadid.

“We went before the planning commission a week ago and I’m pleased to report that … it looked as though the project was going down in flames by a vote of 4-3 or maybe even 5-2,” LJCPA trustee and PRC Chair Phil Merten said. “It’s seldom that we win one at Planning Commission but this one was particularly important and we seem to be ahead of the game right now.”

In other LJCPA news

Skylark project returned: LJCPA trustees voted to deny a two-property proposal and sent it back to its Development Permit Review (DPR) subcommittee for further consideration.

The project, which struck out with DPR members following a third presentation in September (as reported in La Jolla Light Oct. 2), originally proposed adding one rear unit apiece to existing homes on a canyon cul de sac at 901 and 911 Skylark Drive.

Since DPR recommended denial of permits, the applicant has removed the planned guest quarters from 911 Skylark Drive. The loss of one unit removes uncertainty regarding a mandate the owner must reside in either the primary residence or the secondary unit (as they could not concurrently live at both properties).

Landscape architect and project applicant John Krizan said five of the DPR’s six recommendations cited city municipal code sections that did not apply to this project.

DPR members grappled with the issue of drainage and whether the proposed 700-square-foot secondary structures were actually companion units, which could be used as rentals, or guest quarters, which are only meant for short-term visits.

Trustee Zimmerman read a letter from Bill Peirce, president of La Jolla Mesa Vista Homeowners Association, where the project is located. It noted that after the Sept. 9 DPR meeting “numerous neighbors” contacted him voicing opposition to the project.

“Not one person felt this encroachment on our open canyons would benefit the longstanding character of the community,” Zimmerman read, adding the project would “set a precedent for similar development on La Jolla’s open space canyons.”

In the end, trustee Emerson noted the project was not listed correctly on the LJCPA’s agenda, and that she would not be comfortable voting on it. Trustee Alex Outwater made a motion to send the project back to DPR for further review (seconded by Emerson), which passed by a vote of 12-2-1.

LJCPA to meet with mayor on election challenge: Oct. 13 LJCPA officers will meet with the Mayor Kevin Faulconer regarding challenges to its March and July elections. The results of the meeting will be shared during the LJCPA’s November meeting.

LJCPA bylaws committee ratified: The LJCPA also approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to explore updating the LJCPA’s bylaws, consisting of trustees Cindy Greatrex (as chair), Ray Weiss and Rob Whittemore.

Improved Development Services website: Karen Bucey, La Jolla’s new senior community planner (replacing Lesley Henegar), introduced herself, noting that the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department has launched a new website where the public can track both ministerial and discretionary development permit applications, as well as code compliance violations, with a mere project address. The site, titled OpenDSD, tracks current and historical data back to 2003.

The OpenDSD website can be accessed at

La Jolla Art & Wine Festival gets green light: LJCPA trustees approved street closures for the annual La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, Oct. 11-12, although noted applicants should make the request earlier in the year, and start with the Traffic & Transportation subcommittee.

This year’s event, held on Girard Avenue and several side streets, was expanded into the block of Girard between Kline Street and Torrey Pines Road.

Land Development Code update: Justin Garver, a representative for District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, noted the city is soliciting pubic comment on its ninth update to the land development code, which includes more than 50 proposed changes. The code is updated about once every two years.

Children’s Pool ramp width extended: Garver also noted that a ramp leading to the Children’s Pool will be widened beyond the 7.5 feet stated in permits, to something that is closer to the 10 feet beach access and disability advocates requested. Both the new Children’s Pool and La Jolla Cove lifeguard towers currently under construction are slated for completion in spring 2015 (as long as the exterior of the Children’s Pool tower is complete before the beginning of pupping season, Dec. 15, 2014, Garver noted).

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