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Opponents at meetings outnumber those in favor of increased density

Tensions continued to run high over proposals to increase housing density and allow three stories of development within the city’s 30-foot height limit at recent La Jolla public meetings.

On March 6 at a public meeting at La Jolla High School, opponents of increasing density within Bird Rock’s and La Jolla’s planned district ordinances vented their concerns about how that might change the character of the area.

The following night, on March 7, the discussion got testy between community planners representing Bird Rock Community Council, La Jolla Community Planning Association and Promote La Jolla, the community’s business improvement district, over the community council’s take on how best to alter the planned district ordinance governing commercial development. The Bird Rock council has proposed seven amendments to alter its planned district ordinance but favors a variance procedure, not a sweeping amendment, to consider requests for three-story buildings on a case-by-case basis.

At issue is Bird Rock architect Mark Lyon’s controversial proposal, first aired publicly Feb. 6 at a La Jolla planned district ordinance subcommitee meeting, to streamline commercial development throughout La Jolla, adding more areas where three-story buildings are allowed and changing the floor-area ratio to allow greater building density along Girard, Prospect, Ivanhoe, Fay, Eads and parts of Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard.

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Architect Michael Morton of Marengo Morton Architects, a supporter of Lyon’s proposed planned district ordinance, said those amendments are meant to enhance, not detract from, the character of commercial development in Bird Rock and the Village.

“One of our biggest goals is to increase housing opportunities for seniors and others who want to live in the Village,” he said. “Allowing a third story does not change the 30-foot height limit or increase the density from 29 units per acre. Adding three stories doesn’t take away anything from the Village. It’s adding to the Village. We’re not trying to change the whole character of the Village, just reinvigorate it.”

Bird Rock residents cried foul when Lyon circumvented their communitywide planning district ordinance process, opting instead to introduce his two planning amendments separately. Chuck Berke, chair of the La Jolla planned district ordinance subcommitee, has said anyone is allowed to propose an amendment in the process to revise community planning codes.

On Feb. 6, Lyon argued Bird Rock’s planned district ordinance adopted in the 1980s needs to be updated. He contended building within Bird Rock’s planning zone 4 has been hamstrung by having less allowable base bonus densities, which penalizes developers by downsizing the amount of square footage they’re allowed to build.

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Lyon’s proposal to level the playing field between all of La Jolla’s six planning zones, requiring them all to allow the same building sizes, as well as pockets of three-story development within the 30-foot height limit, also broadened the issue to include all of La Jolla, not just Bird Rock. That has culminated in a series of public hearings on the subject.

The next scheduled public hearing on the issue, jointly sponsored by Promote La Jolla, La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Town Council, is Thursday, March 23, at 6:30 p.m. at La Jolla Recreation Center.

Meanwhile, the zoning conflict turned ugly as incidents of vandalism against Lyon and another architect were reported.

“Some unkind words were spraypainted on the office of Mark Lyon between Feb. 6 and Feb. 7,” said Lt. Brian Ahearn of the San Diego Police Department’s Northern Division. “In the other case, a construction partition was thrown through one of the door windows of a business where an office is located at 1245 Roslyn Lane. Two wadded up paper towels with burnt ends on them were also found."City Councilman Scott Peters, who represents La Jolla, said in a recent letter to the La Jolla Town Council that if La Jollans want more time to consider the particulars of amending their planned district ordinance, that’s acceptable to him.

Regarding the status of revision to the planned district ordinance, Peters wrote: “Unfortunately, the discussion has focused on personalities, and has become mean-spirited. ... I am calling on those who consider themselves leaders of our community to eliminate the personal animosity ... to be productive, and to provide helpful input to the decisionmakers at the city who must act on on the planned district ordinance.”

At the March 7 Bird Rock Community Council meeting, Joe La Cava and Paul Metcalf filled residents in on what to expect with future revision of the planned district ordinance.

“We’re in phase two,” said La Cava, “which is the vision process of determining what the community would like to see in commercial business evolution. The Community Planning Association has directed us to come up with a compromise. That’s a task that’s in front of us.”

Metcalf gave a slideshow presentation showing good and bad existing design elements in buildings throughout Bird Rock’s commercial district along La Jolla Boulevard. Deborah Marengo, Promote La Jolla’s president, noted many of the buildings depicted were built before the current planned district ordinance went into effect at the end of the 1980s, and would not be permitted to be built today.

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“A lot of those buildings were grandfathered in before the planned district ordinance came into being,” she said.

Metcalf said there are 120 properties within the boundaries of the Bird Rock Planned District Ordinance. Of that figure, 68 are condos, apartments or other residences. He predicted that if increased density is allowed in proposals set forward by Lyon, the number of developments in the pipeline in Bird Rock could increase from 200 to 300.

Bird Rock has called for a working committee meeting on the issues on March 22, followed by the first of two community forums on April 4. The second forum would be in June, with planned district ordinance review in July and ultimate review by the La Jolla Community Planning Association, the advisory group making land-use recommendations to the city, the first week of August.