Planning panel rejects sidewalk cafe proposal

La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees voted overwhelmingly last week against a proposal to grant a neighborhood use permit for a sidewalk cafe for a new restaurant at 909 Prospect St.

The 4-11-1 vote went against the project applicant, Oved Haskal, who also owns Society Billiards in Pacific Beach. The group determined his plans for outdoor seating at the spot that was formerly home to Hard Rock Cafe and then Bistro 101 encroached into the public right of way and was not in conformance with the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance. The ordinance — which sets guidelines for developments in the community — requires 8 feet of sidewalk clearance for an outdoor cafe; Haskal’s proposal calls for 6 feet of clearance.

Haskal is constructing a cafe and sports bar, to be named Aroma and Barfly.

“The city said it was OK with the 6-foot dimension,” Haskal told the advisory group, adding there are several Village restaurants with less than the 8-foot clearance required.

Trustee Jim Fitzgerald, vice chairman of the PDO Committee that had previously heard the Haskal proposal, said the applicant was given two options then: redesign the project to conform with the 8-foot right-of-way requirement or seek a variance from the PDO to allow less than 8 feet.

To do otherwise, he said, would set a bad precedent.

“For many years, there’s been an 8-foot clearance required by the PDO,” he said, adding the 8 feet allows “a clear path for pedestrians” which prevents sidewalk congestion. “We are not at liberty to arbitrarily override or disregard the PDO.”

Two of Fitzgerald’s colleagues on the advisory board, Phil Merten and Orrin Gabsch, concurred with him.

“The distance in the PDO is 8 feet, and anything other than that would require a variance,” said Merten.

Gabsch added: “I’ve sat on the PDO Committee for a number of years, and there’s never been a sidewalk cafe passed with less than an 8-foot clearance.”

Haskal said his restaurant with an outdoor patio would benefit the community.

“Our menu has 30 pages and is very reasonably priced,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a rowdy bar. It would be a classy place.”

Merten said Haskal should go back to the city planning department and request a PDO variance, suggesting it wouldn’t be that difficult a process, but one mostly involving paperwork.