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Weekend workshops foster collaboration on vision for Bird Roc

Architects working with the community to reinvent its blueprint for commercial development will return soon with a plan of action.

City Council President Scott Peters joined The Stepner Design Group and Bird Rock residents at the Masonic Lodge on Nov. 3 to kick off a series of charrettes held last weekend, soliciting community input on what they want and don’t want in a plan for the commercial strip along La Jolla Boulevard.

“We’re developing the first ideas of what Bird Rock’s commercial district could be,” said architect Michael Stepner, “getting feedback from the community and translating that into a vision that could lead to form-based coding.”

Standard zoning regulates by restricting uses rather than encouraging good design or architecture. Form-based coding attempts to integrate the community’s vision into land-use zoning.

Following a failed first attempt at redoing the planned district ordinance, which was derailed by a controversial proposal to allow three stories of commercial development within the city’s 30-foot height limit, Peters and Step-ner launched a new initiative to tackle commercial planning with the form-based code approach.

At the workshop kick-off Nov. 3, Peters told residents they have a unique opportunity to shape their community’s commercial future.

“You’re driving the bus,” Peters said. “Let’s show people what we can do.”

Peters said other City Council members are reluctant to use form-based coding in updating planning for their district’s commercial areas.

“Some councilmembers don’t want this,” he said. “It’s too hard.”

If done right, Peters said, Bird Rock’s planned district ordinance makeover could serve as a model for the rest of the city.

“If other people in the city see La Jolla has done this,” he said, “they aren’t going to be saying, ‘Don’t do this. Leave me alone.’ They’re going to say, ‘How come I can’t have that?’ ”

Howard Blackson, project manager for ordinance revision, encouraged residents to pursue revising zoning rules.

“Very rarely do we get to work with a place where the street work is already done,” Blackson said. “This is a great community. Be great. You get the place that you ask for, the place that you want. Demand the best.”

Blackson said a survey asked residents about their design preferences and how they envisioned the commercial district fitting in with the rest of the community.

“You’ve got to put (zoning) together,” he said, “and the way you do that is through scale.”

With form-based coding, Blackson said city planners and residents will be able to collaborate on a zoning plan that works.

“You want to put the right stuff on the right streets in the right places,” Blackson said. “The tool you use is form-based code.”

Out of 113 local residents surveyed in September, 51 saw the La Jolla Boulevard commercial strip as a neighborhood center. A total of 44 respondents thought of it as more of a main street. Thirty-eight of those surveyed viewed La Jolla Boulevard as a quiet street.

“People understand it’s not quite Mayberry RFD,” said Blackson, “and not quite Mission Boulevard.”

Seahaus, a 138-unit condominium complex on La Jolla Boulevard, was viewed by residents as one of the most regrettable designs in their community. Those surveyed also cited the car-oriented shops on the east side of La Jolla Boulevard as examples of poor commercial design and use. Bully’s and Lupi’s restaurants were singled out by residents as having attractive designs.

Bird Rock Community Council members Paul Metcalf and Joe La Cava weighed in during the opening day of the four-day design workshop. Metcalf said revising the ordinance affords an opportunity to make corner lots more dramatic and more appealing, while preserving ocean views.

La Cava viewed the dialogue between the city and the community as a binding pact.

“The planned district ordinance is a contract between City Hall and the people who live in the community,” said La Cava. “They see that as their protection.”

Peters said he’s allowed the community to take the initiative in reshaping its commercial destiny.

“You’re in control,” he said. “When you’re through with the process, let’s go over the plan. Then let’s start worrying about making it happen.”

On the last day of the four-day workshop, Blackson was surprised by one thing.

“I’m surprised that the input we got was as civil and as thoughtful and as informative as it was,” he said, “because we heard coming into this there was a lot of tension and strife within the community talking about Bird Rock as a neighborhood center.”

The results of the four-day design workshop in Bird Rock will be addressed at a community meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14, starting at 6 p.m. at Bird Rock Elementary, 5371 La Jolla Hermosa Ave.