Editor: World Oil’s Sunset Plaza is coming back to the OB Planning Board on August 5, 2009. We thought it would be worthwhile to re-post this article, originally posted December 3, 2008. There have been a few design changes, as OB Planning Board Chair Brittany Taylor explained to me: a one foot set-back on both sides of the front, so the building is slightly back from the corner. Because of the changes, the Board has to review it again. Go here to the Planning Board’s current website for more info (there is an entire controversy just in its website – does anyone know the details?).
Will OB Be Left With an Ugly and Vacant Office Building?
OCEAN BEACH, CA. Tonight (12/03/08), in a 9 to 4 vote, the Ocean Beach Planning Board approved the “concept” of World Oil’s Sunset Plaza, a two-story 6600 square foot building for the corner of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. and Voltaire Street. Designed to provide medical and dental offices at the controversial corner, the building would include exterior walls of glass and stucco that force the structure to stand out architecturally, raising issues of bulk, scale and over-all conforming to community standards. The building’s parking lot would be in the rear and sides of the structure, with vehicle access only from Voltaire and the alley.
Three motions to approve the building with various conditions had failed earlier. The very first motion to approve the project as presented was defeated by a 5 to 8 vote. The debate amongst the Planning Board members, in front of a sparse crowd that included only nine OB residents, was generally three-sided.
On one side were those who were dead set against it, as it was an affront to the community in appearance, bulk and scale, especially for that corner – which many consider an important entry-way intersection for the community with special significance. It looked as if 4 Board members were in this group. There was another side that was ready to approve it as is, which included members who expressed reservations about the Board requiring any architectural controls at all. It also included some who felt that World Oil had made compromises enough. This group had 5 votes.
Finally, there was the middle group, that believed, well, at least it wasn’t a gas station, and that with some changes to the design, such as rounding the sharp edges portrayed in the drawings, they would be able to support the project. There was discussion that the project was even a “community victory” because the developer had bent to the community’s wishes to not have a gas station at the corner. The final vote to approve the project’s concept, which is a recommendation to the City of San Diego, was a compromise that allowed the Board to make a decision and move on, and allow the developer to move on the project itself. A majority of the Board seems to think that some version of the building will be built.
Once the decision had been made, most in the audience left the meeting. One person was heard to call the building “butt ugly,” with several others agreeing. It is unclear exactly what mandate the Board set, and it is unclear as to just exactly what design changes the developer has to now make to satisfy the Board.
Development of this particular corner has been a hot issue in Ocean Beach since the late 1990s, when World Oil, the property’s owner, first proposed building another gas station at the corner. The corporation, linked to Exxon, has failed three times to get the community and City’s approval for such a station, the last attempt being in 2003. (See earlier post from Dec. 2.) The Sunset Plaza is their latest effort to move on the lot, which has being vacant for years, except for a three year period when Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization developed and maintained a garden at the corner.
Due to the controversial nature of World Oil and the history of their proposed projects, the issue of developing the lot was assumed to be a subject of interest for the community. Yet with the small turn-out tonight, that interest appears to have fallen like the Stock Market. However, a couple of factors are also in play. Unlike earlier times, there is no current activist group in Ocean Beach these days that is able to get the word out to the community on issues like this.
In addition, there appears to be some effort on the part of the Planning Board to downplay the controversy. For one, the agenda for tonight’s meeting was not posted on the Planning Board’s website until Tuesday, Dec. 2nd, the day before the hearing. And for another, despite that the controversial Sunset Plaza agenda item was publicly listed for 7 pm, the Board at the beginning of its meeting, changed the order of the agenda, and took on the issue long before the appointed time. A few community members who arrived for the 7 pm agenda time found themselves half way through the Board’s discussion with community input over. This procedural impropriety flawed the otherwise well-run meeting, chaired by Lantry Watson.
World Oil will move on its building. The theme tonight at the meeting was ‘It’s not OB but at least it’s not a gas station.’ Hopefully, with this economy whoever is building it, will find the capital to build something. And the community will be left with a compromise. Yet, with half a dozen Newport Avenue storefronts vacant, and with a couple vacant on Voltaire itself, hopefully the community won’t be left with an “butt ugly” and empty office building at one of its most visible corners.