Three-story project rejected again by community planners, Hillel discussion pushed to February

By Pat Sherman

During a special meeting held Jan. 8 at La Jolla Rec Center, the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) rejected a controversial mixed-use project proposed for .27 acres on Girard Avenue (next to the Von’s grocery store) that would place a three-story building in Zone 1 of the La Jolla Planned District (within the La Jolla Community Plan), which limits commercial structures to two stories.

LJCPA’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO) and Development Permit Review (DPR) subcommittees both voted that findings can not be made to approve a coastal development permit and waive tentative map requirements for the 5,125-square-foot project.

The DPR committee rejected the most recent revision of the plans because members felt the “proposed design is not consistent with either the intent nor the letter of the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (the community’s blueprint for development), which clearly is intended to promote pedestrian-friendly, accessible commercial environments.”

It also found the “placement of commercial use is five to seven feet below the sidewalk level (and) not consistent with the PDO requirement that commercial use be placed at the ground floor.”

Project architect Phillip Quatrino of PQ Design Studio said the project was approved as a three-story building by the city’s Development Services Department in 2011 (and initially by the DPR), though in 2012 the LJCPA returned the item to DPR for further oversight.

Since then, Quatrino said his firm has been working with the city’s development services to “craft a structure which meets their definition of basement, ground level commercial (space).”

At the suggestion of city staff, PQ Design continued through the discretionary process with La Jolla’s community advisory groups.

The privately owned project site was sold to a developer after Vons — which currently uses it as a parking lot — decided not to purchase it.

LJCPA board member and DPR chair Paul Benton offered a lengthy presentation outlining his objections to the project.

Namely, the applicants are defining the partially submerged first-floor commercial space as a basement (and not a first-story), which would make the project conform with height limits in the municipal code and PDO.

For it to be considered a basement, Benton argued, the amount of vertical space below proposed or existing grade (sidewalk level) must be greater than that of the basement level above the existing or proposed grade. The proposed commercial basement space is seven feet below the existing, sloped grade in some areas, Benton said.

Trustee Jim Fitzgerald said the project does not conform to the definition of a first story defined in the municipal code.

LJCPA Vice-chair Joe LaCava said Proposition D — which placed a height restriction of 30 feet on development in a coastal zone — could be massaged to define the space as a first story. However, he said, La Jolla’s PDO is clear on the matter.

A motion rejecting the project, including findings of the DPR and PDO committees, was approved 16-0-1. Another successful motion (15-0-5), made by trustee Gail Forbes, rejected the project based on its dark stain and color palette, which does not conform to pastel shades required of commercial buildings in the PDO.

In other LJCPA action

Hillel update:

LJCPA members also delayed discussion of a re-circulated draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed Hillel Center for Jewish Life, a religious student hub proposed near the UC San Diego campus.

The comment period to review minor revisions to the re-circulated EIR has been extended to Feb. 11.

Hillel representative Michael Rabkin said he was not notified that the LJCPA would discuss the EIR until the day of the meeting, adding he feels the relationship between Hillel and community advisory groups has grown “adversarial.” Hillel established a similar student center near San Diego State University with little incident.

Early last year, an ad hoc committee of the LJCPA pored over an earlier version of the EIR, producing a 10-page response outlining its concerns.

Following a motion by trustee Janie Emerson, who also serves on the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC), the LJCPA voted to send the item back to the PRC for further review at its next meeting, 4 p.m. Jan. 28 at La Jolla Rec Center. The LJCPA will revisit the issue afterward, during its Feb. 6 meeting.

“I know it will make a long evening, but I don’t think this is a project that should rightly be short-circuited even though we’ve seen it many times,” Emerson said.

Consent agenda:

All items on LJCPA’s January consent agenda were pulled for further discussion, except for the PRC’s recommendation to approve permits to demolish and rebuild a two-story single-family residence at 8347 La Jolla Shores Drive (the new address will be listed on Calle de la Garza).

Items pulled for discussion at a future LJCPA meeting (or subcommittee) include: The Reserve development on Country Club Lane (located on property formerly owned by the Copley newspaper family); amendments to permits for a Bird Rock home rebuild at 5372 Calumet Way; a 3,100-square foot addition to the Qin home at 2604 Hidden Valley Road; and permits to demolish and rebuild a two-story home at 8490 Whale Watch Way (the latter two items pulled by the applicants).

Coastal study plea:

Former trustee Mike Costello, who holds a master’s degree in biology, offered a presentation on the need for the LJCPA to send the city a letter requesting officials initiate a comprehensive, scientific study of La Jolla’s beaches and rocky shores (largely in response to the pinniped population explosion at Casa Beach/Children’s Pool and La Jolla Cove). The LJCPA instead passed a motion stating that it “supports finding a permanent solution to the stench at the La Jolla Cove that does not compromise other beaches in the area.”

“The effort here is to try to get the city to do something,” Costello said.

Cove lifeguard tower:

Erin Demorest, a representative for District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, said construction on the new lifeguard tower at La Jolla Cove is scheduled to begin at the end of this month or shortly thereafter.

Vacation rental talk:

The next public meeting of a LJCPA ad hoc committee formed to discuss residents’ concerns related to vacation rentals in La Jolla will be at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3 at La Jolla Rec Center. The group met for the first time Jan. 6.

Trustee forum:

A forum for prospective LJCPA trustees will be from held during the LJCPA’s next meeting, 6 p.m. Feb. 6 at La Jolla Rec Center. Elections will be held at the March meeting. Candidates must have attended at least three LJCPA meetings in the last 12 months to be considered (which may include February 2014). Interested persons should e-mail a candidate statement to