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Whitney ‘shocked’ by reaction to project

Bob Whitney, who has proposed what has become a controversial project in La Jolla Shores, said last week that he was “shocked” by some of the adverse reaction.

“It was suggested it have an Irving Gill kind of feel, the architect who designed the rec center and the women’s club and the first house in La Jolla Shores, and that’s the direction we took,” he said about plans for the double lot at Avenida de la Playa and Paseo Grande where a kayak business, whose lease expires soon, now sits.

Whitney wants to demolish the existing one-story residence and retail store and replace it with a three-story structure with 2,300 square feet of shop space with underground parking, and two floors of condos above.

The project has run the gauntlet of local community planning review and next will go to a city hearing officer for assessment. But a date has yet to be set and the project’s development plans have not been resubmitted to the city.

Whitney believes design change in the Shores merchant district is inevitable.

“If you talk to any of the commercial property owners on that block, every one of them wishes they could do what I’m doing if they had the money and the resources: redevelop their properties which were built in the ‘50s to the codes of the ‘50s. At some point, those buildings are going to be replaced.”

The mixed-use project has drawn mixed reviews from local community planners and residents.

The La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee voted 3-1 for it. But they noted the approval was mostly because they could not find that the project did not comply with the existing La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance rather than because they approved of its design.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association wasn’t nearly as unequivocal in its decision, voting 14-1 Oct. 1 to deny the project.

Whitney believes his intentions have been misrepresented. “I have lived here since 1972, a couple blocks away, and we saw this opportunity and studied the La Jolla Shores PDO and what it would let us build and the city’s suggested our plans comply with that.”

Tim Lucas, who is on two La Jolla community advisory groups as well as the PDO updating allowable uses for commercial and residential development, said the Whitney project needs more design work.

“Some have characterized it as being like walking in a canyon, with this thing (building) towering over you,” he said. “It’s just so close to the residences. It really would destroy the character of the micro-business district and in the long run would lessen property values.”

Shores architect Dale Naegle, whose office abuts the Whitney building, opposes the three-story project because it has “minimum setbacks consuming 95 percent coverage of its lot.”

“It will be totally incompatible to the existing three-story shopkeeper building, which has pronounced setbacks and a vertical reduction of bulk and scale,” he said. “Aggressively cramming every possible square foot onto this unique property will not give back anything to the community. This building will set a precedent to al future renovations of existing structures: Our community will become wall-to-wall, three-story-high buildings with flat roofs.”

Whitney intends to follow through on his plans.

“We have to resubmit a revised set of plans to the city,” he said. “From there we have to go to the La Jolla Shores Advisory Board and then meet with the city hearing officer, hopefully before the end of the year.”