Residents consider future face of Bird Rock on Sept. 19

The renewed movement to revise Bird Rock’s planned district ordinance, the community’s blueprint for future commercial development, resumes with the first of a series of public meetings Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Bird Rock Elementary School.

At the meeting, outside consultant Michael Stepner will unveil to residents his preliminary findings on the community’s commercial strip along La Jolla Boulevard. He will be asking homeowners for their insight on the land-use planning process.

“I’ve had a couple meetings with stakeholders,” said Stepner, “and had a lot of conversations back and forth. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take all this information and translate it into something meaningful.”

A previous attempt to update Bird Rock’s planned district ordinance, which hasn’t been altered since the 1980s, hit a wall when Bird Rock architect Mark Lyon made a controversial proposal in February to streamline commercial development throughout La Jolla. He wanted to add more areas where three-story buildings are allowed and change the floor-area ratio to allow greater building density along Girard, Prospect, Ivanhoe, Fay, Eads and parts of Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard.

Bird Rock residents cried foul, believing Lyons circumvented their planning district ordinance process, opting to introduce his two planning amendments separately. A groundswell of opposition to Lyons’ proposals arose, culminating in a “No on 3 Stories” campaign, evidenced by signs dotting La Jolla lawns.

Shortly thereafter, City Council President Scott Peters, who had initiated the Bird Rock plan update process, acknowledged an impasse over the three-story buildings within the 30-foot-height-limit issue. Peters then enlisted the services of Stepner, a former city planner and impartial consultant, to come in and kickstart the process.

Stepner said one of the things to be decided is how much commercial development is too much.

“What’s the balance between commercial that could be supported by the business community and residents, working within the city’s 30-foot height limit? How do you handle infill development? Those are issues that have to be addressed now with the traffic circles coming in and beginning to change the character of the streets.”

Bird Rock Community Council member Joe La Cava has been working with traffic issues and form-based coding, a more user-friendly method of addressing land-use zoning. He agrees the community debate over the ordinance was bogged down by emotionally charged issues.

“Unfortunately, that process got to be fairly controversial and divisive,” he said. “The process had become so poisoned ... there was no way we could get any kind of discussion going about aspects of the planned district ordinance.”

Standard zoning seeks to regulate by restricting uses, rather than encouraging good design or architecture. Instead of an incremental approach, form-based coding attempts to integrate the community’s planning vision into the land-use zoning process.

Getting back on track with future planning for Bird Rock’s commercial strip is of paramount importance, said La Cava. “Bird Rock is one of the main gateways and sets the tone of new development in La Jolla.”

It’s become necessary to renew dialogue about the planned district ordinance along different lines among stakeholders in the community, according to La Cava. “It’s clear residents are not entirely happy with the planned district ordinance’s potential development, can’t understand what the ordinance is trying to tell them.”

Bird Rock Community Council President Pennie Carlos said there’s a lot at stake with revision of rules governing commerical development.

“We are very excited about the prospect of this process,” she said, “but it will only be as good as the diversity of our participating community. These decisions are important ones with long-lasting consequences and require the highest level of care and deliberation in making the final decisions.”

Another Bird Rock Community Council member, Paul Metcalf, has done an analysis of existing condtions in the commercial district. Metcalf identified 120 properties within the boundaries of the ordinance. Of that figure, 68 are condos, apartments or residences.

Consultant Stepner said it’s difficult to predict how the revitalized dialogue over updating the ordinance will go.

“We’ll have to play it by ear,” he said. “Once the process starts, you really don’t know where it’s going to end up. We have no preconceived notions. We’ll see where it goes.”

La Cava said it’s important for Bird Rock residents to buy into this new land-use planning initiative for commercial zoning.

“It’s really important,” he said, “that we as a community have confidence that the public process can, in fact, work. We need to keep the process open and transparent and try to get people to come out.”

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Bird Rock Elementary is at 5371 La Jolla Hermosa Ave.