La Jolla Shores’ Whitney project clears another hurdle, but owners still cautious

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Although city planning commissioners denied an appeal of a city hearing officer’s approval for a three-story, mixed-use project in La Jolla Shores, the property owner said last week the battle may not be over.

Following the commission’s 5-1 vote on Sept. 9, Kim Whitney said her side felt vindicated.

She and her husband Robert want to replace a one-story structure with a three-story building on a corner lot at 2202 and 2206 Avenida de la Playa in the Shores commercial center zone. Their plans call for ground-floor shops with underground parking and three-bedroom condos on the second and third floors.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association had appealed the hearing officer’s approval on the grounds the project’s size and scale was inappropriate for its site and the surrounding neighborhood.

“I’m very happy,” Whitney said. “I felt we were completely consistent with the Planned District Ordinance (PDO) and the La Jolla Shores Design Manual.”

But Whitney added: “We’re going to wait and see what opponents have in store for us,” she said, adding word is out the commission’s ruling will likely be appealed to the City Council.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by chairman Eric Naslund. Naslund wasn’t opposed to the project, but withheld support for the motion saying he felt the new building’s third story needed to be articulated more to avoid disturbing the views of next-door neighbor architect Dale Naegle.

Reacting to the Planning Commission’s ruling, Vaughn Woods, who leads an ad hoc group, La Jolla Shores Tomorrow, opposing the Whitneys project said, “I continue to believe this is a moment of crisis in La Jolla Shores.”

Woods reiterated he believes the Whitney building “is going to be derogatory to the look and feel of our community.”

Thanking Pat Nissan, Joe LaCava, Tim Lucas, Bernie Segal and others from the community who opposed the three-story project at the Commission, Woods added that “there is an orientation by the city to discount the viewpoint of La Jollans and to build at any cost.”

Woods urged others sharing his views to contact him at (858) 454-6900.

Joe LaCava, who chairs the La Jolla Community Planning Association which makes recommendations to the city on land-use, noted it’s difficult for decision makers to review these projects “when they don’t see them every day.”

He added it’s also difficult to qualify “when a building is too big.”

Depending on which side spoke in the Whitney debate, the project will either be a precedent-setting eyesore certain to ruin the Shores’ Village charm or a much-needed stimulus for business along Avenida de la Playa’s commercial strip.

Commissioners listened to public testimony for and against the Shores’ project for more than two and a half hours. “

“Visibility triangles” - a design standard required by the city to ensure cars and pedestrians accessing the site can see one another - were a major bone of contention.

Another issue was the “status” of Calle Clara, the roadway behind the project site. The city has determined that the hybrid thoroughfare, which functions like an alley, is actually a street though its oddball dimensions fall short of city standards.

“The Whitneys have made no attempt to make any adjustments with their project even though there was overwhelming opposition,” architect Dale Naegle said during the planning commission hearing. “It’s design violates our PDO (blueprint for commercial development) ordinance and guidelines and its approval will be a precedent for future development to disregard our ordinance and our community will become massive, wall-to-wall three stories.”

“This is a family project,” countered attorney Lynne Heidel representing the Whitney family. “What started out as a view-blockage issue (with Naegle) became an argument about a massive development going to destroy the ambiance of La Jolla Shores. La Jolla Shores has many old buildings and needs a facelift. This commercial strip needs to be reenergized. This project contributes to that and that is the goal.”