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La Jolla review panel rejects Bishop’s School library plan

La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee on Tuesday rejected The Bishop’s School plan to amend an earlier permit so that they could increase the maximum building height of their previously approved library by four feet.

In denying the private school’s request, board members noted the proposal didn’t comply with land development code regulations, would not be beneficial to the entire community and that the deviation was not appropriate for its proposed location. They also expressed concern that granting the four-foot height deviation would be precedent setting, opening the way for future development to ask for similar deviations.

Bishop’s School representatives were disappointed by the outcome, which followed committee members’ tour of the site.

“What you just told us is we can only have a one-story library — and that’s not what we intended,” said attorney Christopher Neils representing the school.

“This isn’t a vote against the school,” said review committee chairwoman Darcy Ashley. “This is a vote on (deviation from) land development regulations.”

“I have a problem making the findings (for approval),” said committee member Phil Merten, an architect, after it was noted that “hardship” is used in code language defining what circumstances allow a deviation to be approved.

“We’ve never approved a height deviation above 30 feet,” noted Ashley about coastal land-use regulations prohibiting development more than that heighth.

Michael B. Wilkes, chief executive officer of the architectural firm Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker, which is designing Bishop’s new library said “there is a mechanism for having this (deviation) done. This is for a school that will serve students in the community for 80 years or more. If you can’t grant a deviation for this project, what project can you grant a deviation for?”

Merton responded: “This is a private school, a private business benefiting only a portion of the community that can afford to go there.”

Bishop’s request will now go to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for its consideration with the review board’s recommendation for denial.

Master-planned redevelopment efforts at The Bishop’s School were going great until it was discovered that the new library is planned in a low-lying spot prone to flooding.

At a meeting a week go, Wilkes told board members that Bishop’s officials and the architectural team “didn’t know when the Bishop’s School’s master plan was approved in 2004 that the water level is high where the library’s going; it was just an unexpected glitch. We don’t want to build a $10 million project and have one flood take it offline for six or seven months to get rid of all the water.”

Flooding isn’t the only reason the Bishop’s representatives were requesting a 4-foot increase in the future library’s height.

“You’re supposed to have 10-foot-high ceilings in 21st-century buildings,” Wilkes said, adding that the library building had to be redesigned so it wouldn’t be “scrunched.”

“The best way to do that is to raise it (building) up,” he added.

The century-old private school is revamping its 7607 La Jolla Blvd. campus via a long-term, three-phase master plan. The first phase, finished in 2005, included the Science Center, the parking garage and the athletic field, as well as renovation of the La Jolla Boulevard parking lot and the La Jolla Reading Room.

The expansion would increase the total square footage of campus buildings from 177,650 to 313,916. It adds on-street parking and provides new classroom space.

The final two phases of Bishop’s master plan will be constructed as financing permits, Suzanne Weiner, the school’s director of marketing and public relations, noting that the new library will be about 2,100 square feet, said last week.

“We’re continuing fundraising to build the project,” she added.

Asked when construction might start, Weiner said, “It depends on having the money in hand — if we’re lucky, in a year.”

The new library facility will complement existing development.

“It’s going to be a beautiful and wonderful building blending Irving Gill (historical) architecture with 21st-century technology,” Weiner said.