Three-story idea in Bird Rock causes stir over zoning changes

Following lengthy debate, the La Jolla Community Planning Association voted 9-5 on Feb. 23 in favor of returning competing amendments to Bird Rock’s planned district ordinance to the Bird Rock Community Council for reconsideration.

In what has increasingly become a clash between developers and homeowners, both sides once again crossed swords over Bird Rock architect Mark Lyon’s proposal to alter La Jolla’s planned district ordinance, the community’s blueprint for commercial development.

On one side of the issue is Bird Rock architect Mark Lyon, Promote La Jolla and commercial property owners and related building-industry professionals, who want sweeping changes in the planned district ordinance, including allowing three stories within the unmovable 30-foot building height limit.

Promote La Jolla is the community’s business improvement district.

On the other side is the Bird Rock Community Council, representing Bird Rock homeowners and many merchants who don’t want the ordinance to allow the three-story change for all projects. Rather, they favor a variance system where projects requiring three stories be decided on a case by case basis.

At a Feb. 6 meeting of the La Jolla planned district ordinance subcommittee, Lyon spelled out his counterproposal to update the ordinance.

“The basis of our request here is fairness and equality,” said Lyon, who’s currently working on a three-story, 16,000-square-foot, mixed-use development at the corner of Bird Rock Avenue and La Jolla Boulevard. He’s proposing to make Zone 4, which includes Bird Rock, have equal base bonus densities with the four other zones that make up La Jolla.

Lyon said the number of units allowed to be built on any given parcel is calculated by the size of the lot times the base density allowed on it. Therefore, a 10,000-square-foot building on a lot with a base density of 1.0 allows a 10,000 square foot building. If the base density on that same lot is 1.3, a 13,000-square -foot building is allowed. If the base density is 1.7, a 1,700-square-foot building is allowed.

“Since 1982-85 when the planned district ordinance was adopted for Bird Rock,” said Lyon, “Bird Rock’s Zone 4 has always been on the low scale of buildability. A mixed-use bonus density in downtown La Jolla is 1.7 times the lot, whereas on a similar lot in Bird Rock it is 1.3. It is an undersizing, comparatively speaking to the other zones, and we feel this is unfair.”

In the packed meeting room Feb. 23 at La Jolla Rec Center, the majority of Bird Rock residents protested the loss of ocean views caused by the bulk and scale of the recently completed Seahaus condominium project on La Jolla Boulevard.

Residents fear allowing three-story development will cause rampant commercial development and destroy attempts by community planners to create a pedestrian village in the business district.

Trustee David Little argued against considering third-story proposals on a case-by-case basis.

“Variances don’t work,” he said. “Once they’re granted, you can’t tell the next applicant why you won’t approve his project when you approved theirs.”

Bird Rock residents also contended Lyon circumvented the community planning process by not taking his proposal to the Bird Rock Community Council before proposing it to the planning association. They said many people were unaware the architect had a counterproposal to the advisory group’s 12 amendments to the district ordinance, until he unveiled them Feb. 6 before the district ordinance subcommittee.

Association trustee Chuck Berke said anyone is allowed to make a proposal to amend the planned district ordinance.

The motion in front of the La Jolla Community Planning Association to remand the three-story issue back to the community council was made Feb. 23 by association trustee and contractor Louis Beacham.

“We should send this back to the Bird Rock Community Council,” Beacham said, “to discuss the possibilities of structuring a mechanism where a deviation or variance to this two-story regulation can be granted for possible projects that offer some specific benefit to the community, to hopefully formulate some kind of compromise.”

Joe La Cava, chair of Bird Rock’s Planned District Ordinance Committee, gave an overview of what’s become known as the Bird Rock 12 amendments to the district ordinance proposed by the Bird Rock Community Council. The planned district ordinance subcommittee accepted seven of those 12 amendments and have recommended their approval.

La Cava said this is the very beginning of the community approval process for planned district ordinance amendments.

“We just need to get through this,” he said, adding there will plenty of opportunity for more public input on this issue, which will ultimately be decided by the City Council.

In defending three-story development within the 30-foot coastal height limit, Lyon said it allows for better and more flexible building design that can be used to reduce the bulk and scale of buildings making them less, not more, obtrusive than two-story development.

Neighbors held up the Starbucks-anchored Bird Rock Village development as an exampe of what residents want: a two-story, pedestrian-oriented development complementing the community’s character.

Homeowners at the Feb. 23 meeting asked whether trustees who are contractors, architects or are otherwise connected to the building industry ought to excuse themselves from voting on increasing density or adding third stories, since they stand to benefit materially from passage of those proposals.

“The intent of what we’re voting on is a process, not a project,” replied Lyon.