OCEAN BEACH, CA. The Ocean Beach Planning Board met last night (8/05/09) and discussed the latest reincarnation of World Oil’s Sunset Plaza project destined for the corner of Sunset Cliffs Blvd and Voltaire.
Before a small crowd of about a dozen interested residents, the Board first narrowly defeated a motion to deny the project as it was presented. This was a 5 to 6 vote. Then the twelve panel members present voted on another motion to approve the project with the condition that the project achieve some kind of green building sustainability. This passed by a vote of 11 to 1. A couple of Board members were absent – their presence could have defeated the project potentially.
A number of audience members spoke against the project during the public comment period – not one person spoke in favor of it.
The project, as explained by World Oil rep Leslie Burnside, had to come back before the Board as the City had mandated several changes. Burnside has carried World Oil’s water since 1999 when the corporation tried to install a gas station at the prominent corner. The new artist’s renderings of the two-story office building slightly altered the old drawings – there was less stucco and glass.
Seven residents spoke against it and raised a number of issues. Most pointed out the conflicts in bulk and scale, as well as the out-of-conformity nature of the project. Other issues raised included lack of parking now on Voltaire, the project is slated for an important “entry-way” intersection, the fact that OB has many vacant storefronts currently, the lack of respect shown by World Oil to the community by allowing their property at the intersection to be an eyesore, the fact that World Oil cannot limit the business tenants if it cannot find medical businesses – which means a liquor store, deli or other business could move in.
Other issues were the poor architectural elements of the building. With fake railings, fake balconies, fake brick, and dark glass, it resembled “a wooden frame box.”
One speaker offered the point that World Oil needs to demolish the old Dover Plumbing building on the adjacent lot in order to build the Plaza, which could be an historic building. “Our cultural landscape is being destroyed,” the speaker said.
Once the public comment period was closed, the Board proceeded to discuss it. Points were made that the project adhered to the Precise Plan standards and rules set by the City, that the project will take a year and a half to build and the economy may have turned around by then, that the intersection was not the entry way into OB. I counted at least four Board members who favored it. One Board member stated that the Board “is not the style police” in terms of design.
Opposing panelists cited that the project did not conform to the community’s character, that it violated a goal of the Precise Plan in keeping the business district to a small scale, that the original approval by the Board was contingent on the design taking on a “green design” – which it had not. One member said that the Precise Plan has an urban design character that mandates the Board to monitor and judge strutural plans of projects – in countering the premise that the Board is not “the style police.” I counted three members who were against the project.
When the votes came down, the original motion to deny it was based on that it lacked green sustainability, it was not consistent with the neighborhood character, was out of scale with the community, and not compliant with the Precise Plan requirements of bulk and scale. This was defeated.
The motion that did pass contained the following language (as best as I could tell): motion to approve the project contingent on achieving of a green-building rating system. It was openly stated that the Board was not approving it as presented. This face-saving measure passed nearly unanimously.
It is unclear whether the project has to return to the Board for some kind of final approval once the contingency has been met. Plus, what or who will ensure that the project does in fact achieve this contingency of green sustainability. Otherwise, what’s the point of adding conditions?
I have sent these issues and questions via email to the Board’s chair, Brittany Taylor.
Some observations: the Planning Board is definitely split regarding these types of projects. Some on the Board feel that they have no power to question styles and designs of projects, as the Board is “not the style police.” Clearly, however, the Precise Plan, the underlying document empowering the Board, does give the panel this authority – that’s the whole point of having a Planning Board. There are obviously members who appreciate the role of the committee and the tension with developers, people who defend the community’s character and the majority of its residents – the tenants.
Not only is the Board split, the vote could have gone the other way if all Board members had attended this important meeting.
The turnout from OB residents was better than the December 3rd hearing last year, so interest has grown over this issue. But there was no comparison to the crowds who have gathered to oppose World Oil’s plans in the past. Hundreds would attend forcing the meeting into the auditorium of the Rec Center.
Many OBceans apparently would attend when the corporation was pushing its gas station. A medical office building is less of a cause to rally against. Plus OB had mass grassroots organizations in the past who could and would mobilize the neighborhood’s residents.
Unless the community attends these hearing, the Planning Board will operate in the dark. Whether the Precise Plan still has teeth, whether the Board merely rubber-stamps developers’ plans – these are all issues for the community to keep in mind and decide. More projects will be coming before the Board in the upcoming months. Some of them are controversial. Because of this, the community needs to keep awake.