Mitt Romney prepares to remodel beachfront La Jolla home

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

News that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s plans to nearly quadruple the size of his $12 million oceanfront home in La Jolla has drawn media attention around the country.

And it has neighbors in La Jolla’s Beach Barber Tract chattering too, even though “construction will not begin until the permits have been obtained and the presidential campaign is finished,” according to a Romney spokesman.

Romney, seen outside the home Monday afternoon talking to a tourist, would not comment on the project when approached by a Light reporter.

Plans call for demolishing the 3,009-square-foot, single-family residence at 311 Dunemere Drive and replacing it with an 11,062-square-foot, two-story structure.

Architect Tony Crisafi, who is handling the design, said the raw figures are somewhat misleading. (He and Drex Patterson own La Jolla based Island Architects.)

He said only 7,394 square feet of that total is gross floor area, with the remaining 3,668 square feet taken up by a basement and garage.

“It isn’t anything anybody’s even going to see,” he said. “It’s a basement underground.”

The remake of the two-bedroom is needed, said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams, because “they need more space to accommodate their five married sons and 16 grandchildren.”

The former governor of Massachusetts paid $12 million for the property in May 2008. It sits on a 0.41-acre lot at the end of the Dunemere Street cul de sac. It was formerly owned by former Mayor Maureen O’Connor and her husband Robert Peterson, who used it as a rental/vacation home, and Dr. JT Lipe, a prominent local physician. It is adjacent to a home formerly owned by actor Cliff Robertson.

Mark Quint, owner of Quint Contemporary Art, who lives near the Romney property, said he is concerned about the bulk and scale of his project.

“It’s a terrible idea: I think it will be very disruptive to the neighborhood,” he said though he conceded, “private property is private” and said Romney is likely to “get it by the zoning.”

Quint acknowledged he is biased against “ridiculously big houses. I’d tear down our house and build a tiny house.”

But other Romney neighbors, like Michele Perillo, publisher of Southwest Style Magazine in Scottsdale, Ariz., couldn’t be more pleased that the man who was 70th governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 appears to be settling in to stay in the Jewel.

“It sounds enormous when you say four times,” she said. “But he’s making it the same size as the rest of the homes that are oceanfront. They have a very large family and a lot of people come to visit and it’s a great piece of property and it warrants renovating and putting some more livable space in.”

Perillo believes the majority of her neighbors are “extremely supportive” of Romney’s expansion plans.

She praised Island for being “extremely environmentally friendly and sensitive.”

The city of San Diego’s Development Services Department sent out a document on Aug. 19 called a Draft Mitigated Negative Declaration outlining the points of possible environmental impact and concluding there are none that can’t be compensated for.

Publication of the document triggers a 20-day public review. After that, Crisafi said approval of Romney’s residential expansion project would go before a city hearing officer.

According to the draft document, the Romney’s proposed building has been designed so as not to exceed 30 feet in height at its highest point. Proposed grading on the 17,844-square-foot lot would cover 6,000 square feet — 34 percent of the site. Grading depths would be a maximum of 12 feet to accommodate the basement.

Joe LaCava, past president of La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), which makes land-use recommendations to the city, said under the city’s zoning regulations, the Romney property is allowed an 8,400-square-foot house, not including a garage or basement.

Noting basements are an increasingly popular way to gain livable space without exceeding the zoning allowance, LaCava said it is a contemporary trend to try and fit in with the bulk and scale of the neighborhood.

“The application gained the attention of the neighbors over the course of three Development Permit Review subcommittee hearings, but no objections were raised when the application was before the full LJCPA,” he said. “The planning group forwarded a unanimous recommendation for approval to the city.”

LaCava said the project’s coastal development permit is under the purview of the City of San Diego, which has not yet held a public hearing on the application. He said the city’s decision could be appealed to the Coastal Commission because the property lies between the ocean and the “first roadway.”

The existing Romney residence designed by master architect Lillian Rice was originally built in 1936. Building permit records indicate the home was added to and remodeled on several occasions, including a full remodel in 1986.

The city has determined the site is not eligible for historical designation for architecture or as the work of a master architect because “the sum of the modifications caused the integrity of the original building design to be completely lost and no longer reflective of the work of the master architect.”