Planners reject proposal for Hillel’s UCSD center

After lengthy debate, the city planning commission voted 4-1 not to recommend approval of the controversial Hillel Jewish student center project, a decision that will be sent to the city council for review.

Hillel, a UCSD student religious organization, wants to construct a 12,100-square-foot center with subterranean parking on a small triangular lot, Site 653, across from La Jolla Village Drive and UCSD.

Neighbors in the adjacent single-family neighborhood say the scale of the project, which calls for providing 68 underground parking spaces, is out of character with the surrounding community. They also claim it would add to serious existing problems, including lack of parking and traffic congestion.

Raising questions

Permanent structures with religious uses are allowed in the area, however planning commissioners, including La Jolla architect Tim Golba questioned the Hillel center’s planned use.

He said he “counted close to 78 references to a student center in Hillel’s draft permit. It’s incredibly hard for me to make a finding this isn’t an institutional use.”

Golba cautioned that the proposed development, crossing the traditional boundary of La Jolla Village Drive between the campus and surrounding neighborhoods, might set a bad precedent.

“Crossing La Jolla Village Drive has the pontential for erosion of the neighborhood,” he said.

Looking for a home

Lynne Heidel, representing Hillel, told commissioners that the organization is making every effort to work with the community.

“What we have here is a project for a religious organization related to UCSD campus that’s looking for a home,” she said.

Architect Mark Steele, representing Hillel, said his client “is trying to make this site better to try to add to the community - not detract from the community. Most of all, they’re trying to be good neighbors.”

Several La Jollans testified against the Hillel project.

One of them, Dan Courtney, a member of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, argued that the center “really is a student center, not a religious facility,” a use not allowed in the community’s development blueprint.

He also called the neighorhood “a residential area under siege.”

A lawsuit challenging the legality of the city’s sale of Site 653 to Hillel is pending in court.