La Jolla planners December round-up

La Jolla community planners oppose Alzheimer's facility and modern La Jolla Shores home

With substantial changes afoot in the Village and surrounding areas — including the addition of a mini-cultural district on Fay Avenue and the forthcoming reopening (and re-envisioning) of the former Jack’s nightclub complex at Wall Street and Girard Avenue — La Jollans seem to have a renewed interest in the shape their community will take in the coming years.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) — which makes recommendations to the City of San Diego about development and infrastructure projects in La Jolla — had 92 attendees at a special meeting Oct. 29 and 116 during its Nov. 6 meeting.

Although the LJCPA’s Dec. 4 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center drew slightly less of a crowd, attendees were nonetheless vocal about the issues up for discussion.

Although several people praised the whimsical design of an ultra-modern home proposed for 8490 Whale Watch Way in La Jolla Shores — designed by Zaha Hadid, first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize — some, such as former LJCPA trustee Myrna Naegle, maintain the project is better suited for an urban core or university campus than a residential neighborhood.

Naegle, a Shores resident, said she is concerned renderings of the home at street level show only partial views of the project and how it would fit in with surrounding residences.

“We really don’t know what the house is going to look like,” she told local architect and project representative Jim Brown, adding she believes the project defies the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance (PDO), or blueprint for design, and its accompanying design manual.

Naegle said she believes a six-foot reduction in one portion of the surrounding “garden wall” requested by the San Diego Planning Commission is only a “minor” change and “does not alter the appearance of a two-story fortress.”

Brown said the project’s scope has been reduced from its original, 2008 incarnation as a three-story, nearly 15,000-square foot home to one that is currently 9,480 square feet with “radically” decreased setbacks and the LJCPA’s requested floor-area ratio (FAR) of .45 — the maximum allowable FAR for a home in San Diego, outside the Shores, where there are currently no prescribed FARs.

However, LJCPA trustee and architect Phil Merten questioned Brown’s calculations.

Brown refers to his project as a modern version of a courtyard house. Merten noted that its courtyard and an upper-level “ghost area” are not counted in the home’s floor-area ratio, which, if included, would actually give the house an FAR of .81. Merten said houses to the east and west of the project have FARs of .21 and .23, respectively.

“By a technicality (the courtyard/garden space) is not counted by the city, but it sure as heck effects the bulk and appearance of this building,” Merten said, noting that, when counting the roughly 3,400-square-foot courtyard, the project would be more than 16,200 square feet.

Although Brown reduced a corner of one garden wall from more than 21 feet to 15 feet, Merten said the walls still slope upward to a maximum height of 24 feet, which he said is higher than the ceiling of the Rec Center, where the LJCPA meets.

Trustee Ray Weiss said that per city rules for the Shores “you could build a prison wall on your property if it had the appropriate setbacks.”

“Zaha Hadid is famous and it’s an interesting house, but it’s giant — and the idea of calling it a courtyard house … when the wall is that high is the problem,” he said.

In the end, trustees voted unanimously (15-0-1) to uphold last month’s vote of the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee, that findings could not be made to recommend permits for the project. The San Diego Planning Commission will consider Brown’s recent revisions in the near future.

Alzheimer’s care facility nixed: A proposed, 26-room Alzheimer’s care facility at 7630 Fay Ave. (dubbed Monarch Cottages) — approved by LJCPA’s Development Permit Review subcommittee and rejected by its Planned District Ordinance subcommittee (PDO) in October — was also presented to the LJCPA for consideration Dec. 4.

Monarch Cottages owner John Haffner noted letters of support he has received from the La Jolla Music Society, physicians at Scripps Health, and “scientists specializing in neurosciences.”

Project representative Mathew Peterson said the existing building’s irregular configuration — including a drive-thru and lack of operable windows — are part of the reason it has been vacant for the past two years.

La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance requires that at least the front 50 percent of ground-floor building space in the commercial zone be used for retail or a public restaurant. However, the city approved a deviation from that requirement because of Monarch Cottages’ beneficial use. A section of city municipal code allows for “reasonable accommodations for the disabled under state and federal law,” Peterson said. As such, the city has deemed the project a “Process 1” and the applicant is not technically required to present plans to the LJCPA or its subcommittees.

Peterson said there is more than 110,000 square feet of vacant retail space in La Jolla, and the loss of 600 square feet of retail footage in the Monarch building would not have a significant impact. In addition, given the sensitive Monarch residents’ impairment, having the public enter the facility to shop wouldn’t be appropriate, he said.

As required by law, Peterson said the facility would be more than the required quarter-mile from the nearest other residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFE) — including Whites Sands and Casa de Manana.

However, PDO committee vice-chair Jim Fitzgerald, who pulled the item from the LJCPA’s November consent agenda, said vacancies in the Village are turning around, and that La Jolla Music Society’s proposed concert hall next to the Monarch site, and a cinema complex already under construction across the street, would increase the building’s desirability for prospective retail tenants.

Fitzgerald said that the deviation would “permanently eliminate retail space” from the site and “set a precedent for all the commercial zones in La Jolla.”

“A 100 percent residential project sited in the middle of a commercial zone, to me, it is strictly a violation of the PDO,” Fitzgerald said. “The land-use code was overridden by an administrative decision … and the community did not have a chance to review the substance or reasonableness of that override.”

LJCPA president Joe LaCava said the applicant followed the city’s required steps to obtain the deviation. “Whether we agree with that or not is something else,” he said.

La Jolla Village Merchants Association board member Carol Mills, who lives near the site at the intersection of Fay Avenue and Kline Street, and who opposes the project, said she devoted her entire nursing career to the care of older adults and believes the facility would not be a good fit for the neighborhood.

“I’m also a certified long-term care ombudsman for the county,” she said. “I’m here to tell you right now that people at the end of their life with dementia do not go to the symphony; they do not like to walk down sidewalks. … They like peace and quiet.”

Mills invited representatives with the nonprofit group Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform (CARR) to give a presentation. The group advocates for the rights of residents near assisted living facilities.

CARR co-founder Chrisy Selder said large crowds, noise and over-stimulation can agitate a person with cognitive impairment, and that residents with memory loss have an “insatiable” desire to “elope.”

However, LJCPA trustee Dan Courtney, who said he has for years been caring for his elderly mother with memory loss, said he is not concerned with the staff’s ability to assure residents don’t wander off unattended. He said his mother — a former resident of New York City and San Francisco — might enjoy living in an urban setting like Monarch Cottages.

Peterson also noted that dual-pane windows would minimize any disturbance to Monarch residents, while trustee Bob Collins added both White Sands and Casa de Manana are in close proximity to the commercial district and he’s not aware of any problems or concerns with those memory care facilities.

In the end, trustee Courtney made a motion to approve the project, seconded by trustee Jim Ragsdale, with support from trustees Helen Boyden, Bob Collins and Mike Costello, although the motion failed.

A second motion, by trustee Janie Emerson, that findings could not be made because the project thwarts the PDO’s requirement for retail use, passed by a vote of 11-4-1.

In other LJCPA news

90-minute parking: Discussion of an item pulled from LJCPA’s Nov. 6 consent agenda — whether to extend the street parking limit in the 7700-7900 blocks of Girard Avenue from 60 to 90 minutes was rendered somewhat moot when the city approved the time change and installed new 90-minute signs on Nov. 25, prior to the LJCPA’s December meeting.

“The reason some people were concerned is that we now have three different parking zones in the Village — 60 minutes, 90 minutes and 120 minutes,” president LaCava explained. “Let’s let this (new time) stand two or three months, revisit it and then see if it’s working. At this point, that seems to be the best course of action.”

However, La Jolla Village Merchants Association board president Claude-Anthony Marengo said he was disappointed that the city approved the change “very quickly, out of sequence and not (through) the LJCPA.”

“I came here tonight with the intent of hearing that, to ask that it be put to two hours, and not 90 minutes, because I feel that two hours should have been across the whole board in La Jolla, so that our merchants and everybody has a chance to have a little dinner, do a little shopping and get out and rotate,” Marengo said. “I thought this was going to be the appropriate arena to come and talk to you folks and have it done.”

Concours revenues and closures: The LJCPA also approved street closures for the next Concours d’Elegance auto show in the Village (April 10-12, 2015), although trustees Courtney and Fran Zimmerman said they were concerned applicants could not state how much money is raised for its beneficiaries from closing the entirety of Ellen Browning Scripps Park for a private event.

La Jolla Historical Society executive director Heath Fox told La Jolla Light the 2014 Concours raised $43,000 for the historical society’s free exhibitions and free or low-cost educational programs. Approximately 10 percent of that, or $4,300, was given to the event’s secondary beneficiary, the Monarch School.

LJCPA trustee Patrick Ahern said the Concours will most likely be the last private event allowed to take up the entirety of Scripps Park. “They’ve been grandfathered in because of the public benefit and they are cooperating by pulling back fences (and freeing up sight lines),” he said.

Next meeting: La Jolla Community Planning Association meets the first Thursday of the month at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. Because January’s LJCPA meeting would fall on New Year’s Day, it has been rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 5 at the Rec Center. lajollacpa.org

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