La Jolla mixed-use project would replace Unocal 76 gas station on Pearl Street

By Pat Sherman

The owner of land occupied by a Unocal 76 gas station at the corner of Pearl Street and Eads Avenue is moving forward with plans to redevelop his property. Mark Conger said he hopes to replace the station with a two-building mixed-use project that would include a restaurant and retail space on the bottom floor and residential units in both buildings.

Conger is seeking a coastal development permit and tentative map to remove the service station at 801 Pearl St. and construct four retail units, one restaurant and 12 condominiums with a subterranean garage (the entrance to which would be off Eads Avenue).

A two-story building would front Pearl Street (with two residential units on its second level), and a separate, three-story building comprised of 10 condos would be at the rear of the property.

The property falls within two different zones: La Jolla’s Planed District Ordinance zone (along Pearl Street) and a residential zone (at the rear of the property), though it will be developed as one complete parcel.

Land development consultant and La Jolla Community Planning Association Vice-chair Joe LaCava (representing Conger) gave an overview of the project during the April 13 meeting of the Development Permit Review (DPR) city advisory group. (The project was presented to the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance committee on Aug. 12).

Though La Jollans will have one less place to refuel their vehicles, the project would break up Pearl Street with an attractive façade and landscaping, LaCava said.

“Retail really requires a pedestrian friendly experience, and Pearl Street today is really anything but that,” he said. “Our little contribution to make Pearl Street a little more comfortable to walk along is to put a landscape buffer along the curb line.”

LaCava noted that there are several other three-story buildings on Pearl Street with a “big, boxy” appearance and little ornamentation.

“We wanted to create a different design aesthetic,” he said, noting that walls of the building would be offset at various locations to create a “more friendly experience from the pedestrian point of view.

“That is a technique we used throughout the entire project,” he said. “It softens the look of the building.”

Entrances to the residential units would be on the interior of the building, which would include 600 square feet of loading space. In addition, the third story of the rear building is set back from the curb by about 24 feet to soften the project’s overall appearance.

The front building is planned at about 24 feet tall, while the rear building is just under 30 feet, meeting La Jolla’s height limit requirement.

The project would include 24 parking spaces for residential units (including three tandem spaces), plus 13 spaces for the restaurant and seven for retail.

“The way La Jolla calculates parking requirements, we have one more than required,” LaCava said. “The way the city calculates parking, we’re way over (the requirement).”

An existing six-foot masonry wall dividing the rear of the property from residences on Eads will remain, as required by the city.

The PDO committee on Aug. 12 approved most of the project’s landscaping elements, though committee members were concerned that project designs call for adding palm trees along Pearl Street instead of jacarandas — the designated street tree for Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard under La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance, or development blueprint.

LaCava said the reason for proposing palm trees instead of jacarandas is the presence of two nearby bus stops and the fact that the right travel lane hugs the curb.

“A full canopy jacaranda tree, or any full canopy (tree) is not going to be very (conducive) to big delivery trucks and the busses (going by),” LaCava said. “We thought palms trees would have a better chance of thriving in that condition and still give us the buffer for that project. It would add to the palm trees that are in front of the (adjacent) bank.”

LaCava assured that any contaminated soil caused by gas tank seepage would be cleaned up before construction begins. A noise study on the project is still forthcoming, he said.

La Jollan Sally Miller questioned whether the project would significantly reduce visibility at that intersection, though LaCava said there would be nothing over three feet high at the intersection of Pearl and Eads (at which the building is setback via a “view triangle” ).

In the end, DPR members requested of the applicant: a photo simulation of the Eads Avenue side of the project, including views of at least the next three houses to the south (for bulk, scale and design comparison); the possibility of planting jacarandas along Pearl Street instead of palms; providing a materials sample board; additional variation in the surfaces of the east elevation fronting the alley; and additional landscaping along the alley.

Conger said the property was developed as a Union Oil auto service station in 1964. According to the La Jolla Historical Society, it was part of the larger La Jolla Carwash during the 1950s and early ’60s. Conger purchased the station in 1999.

If the project passes muster with La Jolla’s advisory groups, Conger said it should be considered by the San Diego Planning Commission before the end of the year, and could possibly break ground sometime next summer.

The DPR committee was scheduled to consider the project for a final review at its meeting this week.

La Jolla Light

will include coverage of the meeting and the DPR’s decision in next week’s edition.