La Jolla planners grapple with ‘guest quarters’

La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committee approves Mt. Soledad reservoir rebuild

La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committee (DPR) had a full slate of projects to consider during its Sept. 19 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center.

After a final project review, the DPR — which analyses all discretionary permits in La Jolla (outside the Shores) — denied a proposal to construct “guest quarters” behind adjacent homes at 901 and 911 Skylark Drive, as well as a deck, swimming pool/spa, retaining walls and a pergola (outdoor shaded area).

Trustees expressed concern with the thin line between the city’s definition of “guest quarters,” in which visitors may only reside for short intervals, and “companion units,” which include complete living facilities (including a kitchen) and can be rented.

In July, homeowner Antonio Sacido was asked to return to DPR with proof he recorded an “owner agreement” with the city attorney’s office stating that he would reside in either a primary residence or companion unit (proving neither would be used as rentals). Such agreements transfer with the property title to future owners.

Although Sacido did not return with the signed agreement, per the city’s request his project designers did nix plans to include a full kitchen in each unit, the addition of which would have defined them as companion units, as opposed to guest quarters, per city municipal code.

Removing the kitchen, and thus their presumed rental potential, also did away with the city’s requirement for at least one additional off-street parking space per unit.

“They’re not technically a dwelling unit (anymore) … so those parking requirements go away,” project representative and landscape architect John Krizan said.

Although during July DPR meetings residents and homeowner association (HOA) members expressed concerns that the project could still be used for vacation rentals, on Sept. 8 the HOA’s architectural jury approved the plans, and a subsequent 15-day appeal period passed with no opposition.

DPR Chair Paul Benton noted that the DPR does not consider private agreements such as a HOA’s covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs), though the HOA could advise the DPR on issues such as community character, he said.

Krizan said the Sacido family might potentially use one unit as an art studio and the other as an exercise studio. Both would likely have bathrooms he said.

“We have no problem accepting the limitation of not having a kitchen,” he maintained. “These are not companion units. … (They are) guest quarters.”

However, DPR members were not assured that the current owner or subsequent owners would not use the proposed units for vacation rentals, student rentals or apartments down the line.

Trustee Diane Kane noted that the removal of a kitchen wouldn’t preclude people from living in the units.

“Hardly anybody cooks today,” she said. “If you’re allowed to put in a refrigerator and you’ve got water and you can bring in a hot plate, you’ve got a kitchen. … I think there’s a high degree of skepticism on this committee as to what this actually is. No matter what you call it, it’s going to end up being a residential unit. … The name is irrelevant.”

“It’s true,” DPR trustee Angeles Liera added. “All over the city, guest houses have become additional units.”

Project representative Mark Farrington noted that as a condition of the HOA’s approval, the owners signed an agreement stating the units would not become rentals, which the HOA could enforce with legal action, if necessary.

In the end, however, DPR trustee Mike Costello made a motion to deny permits for the project (seconded by trustee Robert Mapes). The motion passed 6-1-1 with trustee Brian Will in opposition and Benton abstaining. Will said he didn’t feel the proposed units were designed to be rentals.

In other DPR news

Que Serros Serros: DPR members went another round with an applicant seeking to add a second-story to a home t 335 Dunemere Drive (Serros residence) that the city’s Historical Resources Board has deemed potentially historic.

After presenting his plans at DPR meetings in July and August, architect Ron Despojado returned Sept. 9 to present scaled back project renderings that took into account trustees’ and residents’ concerns about the project blocking street views toward the ocean (particularly, a balcony at the northwest corner) and its design being out of character with the neighborhood. The gable-style roof was diminished and its exterior was altered to provide a small setback along Dunemere, resulting in a reduction of the second-floor area from 647 to 611 square feet.

Although trustees noted that Dunemere Drive is neither a designated view corridor nor scenic overlook per the La Jolla Community Plan, Dunemere resident Michael Duddy displayed a section of the community plan’s natural resources chapter (page 46) which identifies Dunemere as a “coastal vantage point” from which a body of water can be seen.

Since the home’s historic status is still under review, trustees expressed concern with approving the project until they know whether it would need to comply with federal Secretary of the Interior Standards for historic homes.

Owner Linda Serros said the property was not historic when her family purchased it 32 years ago, though significantly altering a home 45 years or older automatically triggers a historic evaluation by the city. Serros said she would do “whatever it takes” to assuage her neighbors concerns, though noting that other residents on her street have been allowed to develop larger, taller homes, including Mitt and Ann Romney and the owners of the former Cliff Robertson estate.

“We have not had a view for the 32 years we’ve been there,” Serros said. “We are hoping for a small balcony to have our happy hour and have a view. I don’t like to be greedy, but maybe it’s our time after 32 years.”

Despojado and Serros requested that the matter be continued until after the city makes a determination on the home’s historicity.

Reservoir redux: DPR members also approved replacing a 500,000-gallon reservoir and pump station above La Jolla Country Club with one that has an increased storage capacity of 880,000 gallons. The reservoir, just west of the estate of Audrey Geisel, wife of the late author Theodor Geisel, went into service in 1927.

It is located on city land, is shielded from view by vegetation and behind wrought-iron fencing.

The city says the larger facility is needed to meet current city standards; help reduce maintenance and energy costs; improve water quality and water supply reliability; and meet La Jolla’s increased water demands.

The project, to begin in Nov. 2015, will be under construction for about two years. Trustee Kane, who lives in the area, noted “twisty, older streets that have poor sight lines and are fairly narrow.

“I’m really pleased that we’re getting an upgrade to our system … but I just want to be sure that we’re not going to be having the streets disrupted and traffic and safety issues as a result of construction,” she said.

City of San Diego Associate Planner Darren Genova said he and his colleagues would “definitely keep that in our minds as we go to the next stage.”

Care facility presentation postponed: A presentation on a proposed Fay Avenue residential care facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia scheduled for the Sept. 9 DPR meeting was postponed while project representatives consider feedback from their presentation during the Sept. 8 Planned District Ordinance (PDO) meeting.

The proposed project, dubbed Monarch Cottages, would require coastal and site development permits, as well as a conditional-use permit, for a 26-unit, two-story care facility at 7630 Fay Ave. The building was once home to the Chopra Center and, most recently, SPA MD cosmetic surgery center.

Although the PDO committee was pleased with the project, its members had reservations about its location — next door to the La Jolla Music Society’s planned performing arts center and across the street from the seven-screen Boffo Cinema complex under construction in the former Jonathan’s Market building.

PDO member Michael Dershowitz said the applicant, Brian Longmore, sent a notice to residents and businesses within a 1,000-foot radius of the project. “They said they’ve gotten everyone’s approval for this,” Dershowitz said.

In a statement to La Jolla Light, the music society’s executive director, Christopher Beach, confirmed, “We have met with them and we believe they will be good neighbors and look forward to working with them.”

The applicant requested a continuance, and will present the project again at PDO and DPR meetings in October.

La Jolla High concession stand/restrooms: DPR members also considered a proposal to construct a concession stand and restrooms atop a water main abandoned in 2001 at La Jolla High School (near the athletic field). The school is seeking an easement vacation and coastal development permit for the project. DPR discussion included concerns about access to the facilities for people with disabilities, the public-right-of-way, possible proscriptive rights and other issues.

Prior to a school district representative returning to the DPR’s Oct. 14 meeting, trustees requested: larger, colored project drawings, details of future plans for the area and photos of the site and its surroundings.

DPR meetings are open to the public and held 4 p.m. the second and third Tuesday of the month at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St., Room 1.