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Boxy home rebuild plans trouble La Jolla permit reviewers

La Jolla permit review committees grapple with size, bulk of proposed projects

View of a home (left) on Rushville Street off Bishop’s Lane that its owner wants to demolish and rebuild as two stories. Across the alley is The Cove at La Jolla, a skilled nursing facility.
View of a home (left) on Rushville Street off Bishop’s Lane that its owner wants to demolish and rebuild as two stories. Across the alley is The Cove at La Jolla, a skilled nursing facility.

During December meetings of the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) and La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee, board members considered proposed home rebuilds near La Jolla High School and Kellogg Park with similar square shapes.

During its Dec. 16 meeting, DPR members debated during final review of a proposed home rebuild at 820 Rushville St. (a one-way street adjacent La Jolla High’s football field) at Bishop’s Lane (an alley between Fay and Eads avenues).

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The applicant is seeking coastal and site development permits to demolish a single-family home and build a modern, two-story home of 3,007 square feet on a 4,010-square foot lot. The rectangular-shaped home would include a deck, garden and solar panels on its roof, and an attached, two-car garage of 458 square feet.

The project would have a floor-area ratio (FAR) of .65 where a FAR of up to .75 is allowed. A FAR is defined as the ratio of the size of a structure relative to its lot, which is used to manage density in residential and commercial development.

During the DPR’s Dec. 9 meeting, some board members took issue with the intensity of the project, which appears to maximize allowable development of the site, including maximum encroachment into setbacks, where possible. For example, the garage will encroach into a 5-foot side setback, while the deck will encroach into a 15-foot rear setback, as allowed per San Diego Municipal Code.

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Designer Dominique Houriet of studio presents plans to demolish a one-story home and build a two-story structure in its place at 820 Rushville St. (across from the La Jolla High football field).
Designer Dominique Houriet of studio presents plans to demolish a one-story home and build a two-story structure in its place at 820 Rushville St. (across from the La Jolla High football field).
(Pat Sherman)

“They’re kind of giving you a little bit of a break,” designer and project applicant Dominique Houriet said. “They understand that you’re limited in (lot size) so they’re saying the garage or an accessory building can encroach into the setbacks if the site is less than 10,000 square feet … if the accessory building or garage is not over 15 feet tall … if it’s not deeper than 30 feet or if it does not exceed 525 square feet (in size). Based on that, I’m able to push the garage out past the setbacks.”

Houriet said he is allowed to have a fence along Rushville Street of up to 6 feet tall, to which he plans to add vegetation to prevent light from the adjacent football field from shining into the homeowner’s windows during games.

Asked by a neighbor in attendance what kind of drainage he plans to install to prevent flooding her backyard when it rains, Houriet said his rooftop garden would capture some rainwater and prevent excessive runoff. He also said he plans to install a catchment system so rainwater can be used for irrigation, as well as a French drain around the house that allows water to run out to the curb.

Neighbors to the west said they are concerned by the prospect of having to look at a solid wall of up to 28 feet on their side of the proposed house.

Rendering of a proposed two-story home at 820 Rushville St. (center) and how it would appear with surrounding structures.
Rendering of a proposed two-story home at 820 Rushville St. (center) and how it would appear with surrounding structures.

Noting that the project is on a “tight, difficult site,” DPR member Diane Kane said, “I think you’ve done the best you can do, but I just don’t know how well it works for the area. To me, you’ve focused inward and you’re trying to block out everything around you. You’re not really paying any homage to the neighborhood.

“Granted, there are some issues with institutional uses around you … on the other hand, we’ve got more and more people doing that and the Village is really losing a lot of its character. It’s a neighborhood of little beach cottages and this is just not that.”

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During the previous week’s meeting, Houriet was asked to provide a study of other homes in the neighborhood, noting their density, FAR and setbacks (Houriet said homes on Eads Avenue and Fern Glen have FARs of .65 or slightly above).

DPR member Mike Costello suggested his committee should have asked for more explicit studies showing the range of flat roofs like that proposed by the applicant, versus those with a sloped roof, like that favored by DPR members for this project. “I wish we had asked for more of that so we can see how this neighborhood is developing and how out of character it might be,” Costello said. “It sticks up pretty high at this one point of Bishop’s Lane and Rushville.”

Houriet said the project’s proposed quarter-inch pitched roof would wash away as much rain as possible. “My roofs are working to shed the water off in the proper directions that I need,” he said.

Although the project may appear “solid” and “bulky” from the front, Houriet said, the only thing it would block is the view of the football field and noise from games.

In the end, Houriet declined an invitation to return to DPR to present the project again, though he said he would meet with his neighbors to further discuss their concerns.

A motion that findings cannot be made for the project was tied, 4-4, with DPR chair Paul Benton breaking the tie by voting that findings could not be made for the project. The DPR’s recommendation will appear on the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s January consent agenda. It can be pulled for further discussion by the applicant or anyone in attendance, 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 5 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

Shores rebuild headed 
for LJCPA meeting

During its Dec. 17 meeting, the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) considered a project that has gone from a proposed remodel with the addition of a second story to a complete demolition of the existing home and construction of an entirely new, two-story residence.

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The project, at 8374 Paseo del Ocaso (near Kellogg Park), would include roof-mounted solar panels that would generate at least 50 percent of the project’s projected energy consumption.

During the PRC’s November meeting, the committee found that a draft environmental document for the project (dubbed the Fentisova Residence) was in error because it conflicts with applicable land-use plans, policies and/or regulations for San Diego and La Jolla.

A section of the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance (PDO) — or blueprint for design — states that “no structure will be approved that is so different in quality, form, materials, color and relationship as to disrupt the architectural unity of the area.”

The 4,950-square-foot project (on a 5,250-square-foot lot) has a floor-area ratio (FAR) of .94.

Drafter/designer Hilary Lowe presents plans for a proposed home rebuild at 8374 Paseo del Ocaso in La Jolla Shores.  Pat Sherman
Drafter/designer Hilary Lowe presents plans for a proposed home rebuild at 8374 Paseo del Ocaso in La Jolla Shores. Pat Sherman

PRC members said the “overwhelming size and bulk” of the proposed project is significantly greater than that of existing homes on adjacent lots and in the surrounding area, conflicting with the “Design Principal” section of the La Jolla Shores PDO.

Although the Shores is the only residential community within the City of San Diego without a prescribed, maximum FAR, many believe that an FAR limit of .60 existing elsewhere in San Diego for single-family residential zones should apply, and would relieve much of the uncertainty surrounding development density in the Shores.

The PRC previously found that “Significant lengths of the north and south exterior building walls of the project are set back only four feet from the side property lines (and) extend straight up from grade level a full 30 vertical feet (the maximum allowed under La Jolla’s Proposition D height limit) without any horizontal offset or setback.” PRC members said this conflicts with the La Jolla Community Plan and Local Coastal Program’s call for sloped or stepped-back second stories to provide transition between the bulk and scale of new and older development in residential areas.

“If approved,” the PRC unanimously ruled in November, “the cumulative impact of the … project in conjunction with future projects with similarly large FARs would dramatically alter the existing character of the neighborhood.”

Presenting the project to PRC members in December, designer Hilary Lowe said the house next door is newer, two stories and “sort of looming over our property,” while the property on the opposite side is single story.

Lowe noted properties on the street with FARs of .87 and .92. “We are verifying all these FARs right now,” she said, “but a lot of the houses built in the last 10 years are a lot larger, two-story houses. Our proposed project will fit nicely into that.”

The project would reduce the front yard setback from the street from 19.5 feet to 15 feet, Lowe said, noting she conducted a survey of front yard setbacks in the area and it fits within the average.

The height at the front of the property is 22.8 feet while at the rear of the property it is about 29.9 feet (just inches under La Jolla’s height limit for new construction) — a chief concern for PRC members. However Lowe and co-designer Michael Shumard noted there are lots of windows and “nooks” to provide articulation in the building’s overall exterior.

PRC chair Phil Merten said the La Jolla Shores PDO (incorporating San Diego Municipal Code) requires that at 24 feet up, buildings must slope inward as they approach the 30-foot height limit, though Lowe said her city project reviewer told her that this section of the code “does not apply to areas within the La Jolla Shores PDO” per “an internal memo within the Development Services Department on that subject.” She further argued that several homes in the neighborhood have “large walls extending up into that (proposed) angled setback.”

“We’re happy to comply with any codes that we do have to comply with,” Lowe said. “If that does apply, then we’ll have to step that back, as necessary.”

PRC member Dolores Donovan said her concern with the project was its .94 FAR.

“I’m not opposed to a more modern design or more modern architecture — it’s a beautiful house you’ve got there,” she said. “What does concern me is the prospect of La Jolla Shores being populated by nothing but houses that are at a .94 FAR. … My goal as a member of this planning organization is to maintain a balance in the La Jolla Shores and not have it become a place in San Diego that has all of the largest houses in the city. If you can scale this house down and stick with the kind of architecture that you’ve got, I’d be very happy.”

Shores resident Bob Whitney said he “hopes the (PRC) would stop playing this game with applicants, where you’re imposing an FAR that does not exist. …

“There is no FAR in La Jolla Shores,” Whitney said. “You guys are here to judge the property based on the code that exists today. If you don’t like that code, then change it. But judge it on what the code says.”

Architect Tony Crisafi suggested the best way to get such projects approved is for applicants to demonstrate to the PRC and community how they have mitigated the impact of their project’s bulk and scale by stepping it back. “If the applicant is able to take the lead and show how this building fits into the neighborhood, I think you’ll find success,” he said.

PRC member Tim Lucas said he is concerned that such projects will set “a precedent of encroaching closer and closer to the front of the street.” He made a motion (seconded by Donovan) requesting the applicant provide more information on the side, front and rear yard setbacks, as well as an FAR survey to see how the house would relate to others in the vicinity.

“When you do these neighborhood averages, over time everything keeps getting smaller and smaller, until everything’s right on the property line,” Lucas said.

The applicant will next present the project to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 5 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

Whale Watch Way … continued

PRC chair Merten noted that at the last LJCPA meeting trustees unanimously voted to adopt the PRC’s recommendation to deny permits for the most recent revision of an ultra-modern home proposed for 8490 Whale Watch Way in the Shores. (It was denied primarily because of its size and non-conforming character).

The San Diego Planning Commission will consider the project again in February “to give the design architect, who is located in London, England (Zaha Hadid) and the owner a chance to be at the meeting,” Merten said.