Neptune proposal stirs preservation sentiments

Some see the plan to tear down and replace the Neptune Apartments in WindanSea as natural evolution, while others are calling it the death knell for the La Jolla neighborhood.

Plans to raze the two-story, 19-unit apartment building at 6767 Neptune Place and replace it with a three-story, 24-unit project with deep underground parking have stirred the preservation sentiment of neighbors and community planners alike.

“The character of the place has changed from the cottage influence,” said longtime WindanSea resident Bill Patton, whose family owned many of the cottages early on. “Three stories and two stories underground is a monster. ... This is a continuing process around here.”

“WindanSea has traditionally been a laid-back surfer community,” Bird Rock Realtor Michelle Dykstra said. “The character of the neighborhood — the look of the oceanfront properties — definitely is changing. But with the location on the Pacific Ocean, it seems inevitable that these properties will be redeveloped as they deteriorate. It is logical they will be replaced with newer properties.”

Admittedly, the change in the character of WindanSea has been noticeable for at least 10 years. But, as evidenced by the Neptune proposal, it seems to be accelerating, neighbors say.

Back in 2000, construction started on two apartment buildings that were torn down in preparation to build eight luxury homes at 301-343 Playa del Norte/Playa del Sur. Those homes were finally finished around 2006 after a multitude of subcontractors came and went. From 2000 to 2002, neighbors lived with a fenced-in, massive dirt hole in the ground, then daily construction noise for more than three years, which displaced many full-time renters on Playa del Norte.

The end result is a startling contrast: multimillion-dollar luxury homes with basements and elevators dwarfing small, older cottages and mostly one-bedroom apartments that have historically been affordable to students, UCSD professors and beach people.

Dykstra noted that area beach cottages are presently valued in the $800,000 range. She said the luxury homes, some originally priced as high as $4 million, have since seen their market value plummet by as much as half due to the real estate recession.

To recoup the loss in their investments, some owners of luxury apartments have turned them into “fractal” rentals, timesharelike arrangements in which properties are rented at premium rates for a week or a weekend only. Typically, such rentals occur during peak-season times, leaving them vacant much of the year.

The story now, 10 years after new construction began, say local residents, is that the neighborhood continues to be held hostage by constant construction due to defective original construction and damage caused by flooded basements due to persistent groundwater seepage.

Neville Rich, who owns a two-story apartment complex across the street from the Neptune complex, noted that with the demolition of all the studios and one-bedrooms in the area, density has been diminishing.

“My concern, aside from the disruption of construction over a protracted period of time, is the extreme wearing effect on the neighborhood,” he said, adding that high-rises replacing beach cottages is “degrading our view” and changing the neighborhood’s character with all the out-of-towners coming in for weekends and renting out the fractals.

Rich said, “It’s not going to be a neighborhood anymore: It’s going to be a resort.”

Carol Olten, La Jolla Historical Society’s historian, said there is concern about architectural preservation throughout La Jolla. “We’re always encouraging preservations in our neighborhoods,” she said, adding that WindanSea has a “wonderful history of surfing culture and people hanging out at the beach.”

“This whole thing with high-end condos might be fine and dandy, but there will be an element of beach life that will be missing if everything goes in that direction,” Olten said.

There are reasons, other than aesthetic or nostalgic, why some WindanSea residents are opposing the proposed three-story Neptune complex.

Devin Burstein, recently elected to the La Jolla Community Planning Association, which makes land-use recommendations to the city, lives in the Neptune Apartments and stands to be displaced. But, he said, he won’t be the only thing displaced should the redevelopment go through.

“Obviously, we would lose our homes,” he said, noting: “The rents there are best described as moderate for La Jolla, certainly for that beach.”

Burstein said that leaving Neptune Apartments as they are would continue to provide the socioeconomic diversity — both in terms of age and income — that is lacking nearly everywhere else in La Jolla.

And then there’s the water issue. Neighbors say Playa del Norte/Playa del Sur is a natural drainage area for Mount Soledad, meaning that WindanSea downstream is prone to persistent flooding and high groundwater levels, something developers in the area try to ignore.

Patton said: “This is a stream bed right here, constantly wet with slimy water coming up through the cracks in the asphalt. In this drought period, that hasn’t happened. But it will again.”

Joe LaCava, planning association president, said his advisory group feels strongly enough about the Neptune redevelopment being out of character with its surroundings that it has appealed the project’s approval by a city hearing officer recently.

That appeal has been scheduled before the city Planning Commission on June 3.

Meanwhile, given current market conditions, Dykstra sees the trend of turning luxury homes into fractal timeshares, such as the ones in WindanSea, continuing along the waterfront.

“It’s a creative way to sell your home,” she said. “You’re probably able to get more money overall in fractal than you may be able to get in a traditional sale. Probably you’ll see more of it (fractals), at least in the near future. The fractal market: It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is.”