Ocean Beach’s ocean front looks like it will experience a major new development at Saratoga Park without an adequate public review of the development.
It appears that the California Coastal Commission is about to approve changes to the condo complex planned for the corner of Abbott Street and Saratoga Avenue, called Ocean Park Villas, near the Saratoga Park at the beach, located at 1984-92 Abbott St. and 5113-19 Saratoga Ave. This will likely occur at the Commission’s next meeting, scheduled for October 6, 2011. It will likely occur because the Commission’s staff says so. They have given their recommendation of approval to an amendment to the original plans.
The big problem with this, is that the new owners of the planned development of about a dozen condo units have drastically changed and altered the original plans, plans that the Commission had originally approved, but without an adequate review of those significant changes. Even the original architect is upset and concerned that OB will get something that its own planning body, the OB Planning Board, never approved.
What is going on? Here is a timeline:
- August 65, 2008: OB Planning Board by a vote of 4 to 3 agreed to allow the city to vacate the alleys behind the land at end of Saratoga and Abbott so that the developer of the project could put 2 additional units into his project. In return, the Parks and Rec department will be compensated for the 2700 square feet of land in question.
- January 30, 2009: Coastal Commission issues its Coastal Development Permit to build the new structures. Interestingly enough, the Permit includes this language: “Expiration: If development has not commenced, the permit will expire two years from the date on which the Commission voted on the application.” (Our emphasis.)
- November 2009: the Coastal Commission approves the original plans for demolishing the current 15 units of the four detached buildings, including the former location of Hodad’s, and the construction of a two- story, 30 foot high 12-unit condo building, that would sit over a 27-space subterranean parking garage. The two alleys that border the west and south sides of the property will be eliminated, and half of the alleys will become the property of the new development. The entire alley area will be turfed for pedestrian use and open space.
- In July 2010, the property sold for $3.8 million, cash, to buyer entitled 1984 Abbott LLC, c/o Clark Realty Capital LLC, 3655 Nobel Drive, Suite 500, San Diego. Clark Realty is an Arlington, Va., headquartered real estate company. The new owners plans on developing 12 new townhomes with an average projected unit floor plan of 1,200 square feet.
- Summer 2010: Local OB architect Steven Lombardi presented his drawings to the OB Planning Board. There are a number of outstanding issues about this site, including the underground garage being built in a flood zone, the city giving up property adjacent to park land allowing the developers to intensify the project. Importantly, the OB Planning Board requested the new owners to consult with local architects, and bring a preliminary design to the planning board before they finalized their plans. The public right of way “give-away” concerns revolve around the fact the property line actually runs right down the middle of that right-of-way, and if vacated, half reverts to City property (park space) and half reverts to the owner’s use. But some believe that the City did not own all of that land, but had a right to use it that was based upon an obsolete public purpose.
- Sometime between the Summer of 2010 and the Fall of 2011, the proposed project switched hands. It was taken over by Marengo Morton Architects, Inc., with Claude Anthony Marengo leading the re-newed efforts to throw the project up. Because of changes, Marengo applies to the Coastal Commission for their approval of his amendment, bypassing the OB Planning Board.
- September 7, 2011: the project’s original architect, Steve Lombardi, returns to the Planning Board to inform them that the entity who had purchased the plans and permits for the Ocean Park Villas project has proceeded to make significant changes to the design (his design) and is attempting to proceed with the amendments to the Permit with the Coastal Commission under the concept of “substantial conformance”.
- September 21, 2011: Coastal Commission staff issues report, and recommends approval of amendment for development to proceed under the old Coastal Permit, despite many changes to the original design. Staff opines that new designs are in “substantial conformance” of earlier, approved design. (Details below.)
In an August 11, 2011, letter to the Coastal Commission, Lombardi laid out his objections to the “new” design. The new design, he said, “pushes the bulk of the units west or closer to the park/ ocean, thus blocking public view to the north and up the coast.” He believes that his design increased the public view. Further, the vacated alley on the south of the property, next to the lifeguard beach parking, “is reduced to public access.”
One of Lombardi’s biggest contentions with the new design is the “open parking garage/ carport”. The old design included a 27-car underground garage, whereas the new design eliminates the undergrounding, but places the parking spaces for 20 vehicles on Abbott Street, or right off Abbott, which “increases the automobile appearance and increases the visual width of Abbott Street into the proposed design … as if it is an extension of the street creating a ‘sea of cars’. ”
In addition, Lombardi says, “the entry for cars is off Abbott Street which creates ‘entering and exiting’ of cars is [sic] a ‘traffic nightmare’.”
Lombardi also complains that the new design for the building – in having no articulation for each unit – “could be mistaken for a drive up ‘Motel Six’ ….” While his design promoted native plantings, photovoltaic panels, and other cooling devices, “the proposed design does not address any ‘green features’ ….”
Not only that, the new design uses glass railings on the east side along Abbott, and includes a wall around the property – which his design did not include.
“So, from a planning point of view this project falls short, opportunities are lost on a highly visible site like this has to offer. The ‘Architecture’ or lack of, suffers from heat stroke, existing trees are missing along both Saratoga and Abbott streets. And, the landscape does not exist, while the environmental issues are not even addressed. “
Finally, Lombardi urged that the “new design needs to go in front of the Ocean Beach Planning Board and the downtown Planning Commission like the original design did, because this project is total [sic] different than the original. This proposed design by the new owner and architect is not what the OB Planning Board and the Planning Commission approved.” (Our emphasis.) Here is Lombardi’s letter to the Commission (page 1, page 2).
Coastal Commission Staff Recommends Approval
Despite Lombardi’s pleading, apparently the Coastal Commission staff has moved on the amendment before the body. (An amendment supposedly covers all the changes, no matter their significance or how drastically they altered the original design.)
In their September 21, 2011, report, staff at the Commission “is recommending approval of the proposed amendment ….” It seems that since the underground parking aspect has been removed, and the new design calls for ten units, and not the original 12, staff must have been persuaded that everything else is just frosting on an otherwise perfectly good coastal development.
The main issue that staff addresses is whether the development “will be safe from wave run up and flooding, and protection of public views and public access.” And their concerns are laid to rest, based on information provided by the applicant.
Nevermind that the proposed new design calls for three stories – not two, rearranges the building by moving the entire structure to the west – closer to the beach and ocean, removes any semblance of what the original plans looked like, eliminates most of the landscaping, throws up a wall around the property, and makes Abbott Street look like a parking lot, the staff went ahead and recommended approval.
Here is the full Coastal Commission staff report (pdf) and recommendations.
Ocean Beach is facing a travesty of major proportions. Not only is the design of the proposed huge project way out of line from the original, approved plan, the new design never was shown to or approved by the OB Planning Board nor has it been approved by the San Diego Planning Commission.
The Coastal Commission staff, in the end, did not believe the new changes were significant enough to warrant a new public review process. The City of San Diego has signed off on it (without an actual Planning Department – this could be dicey), and the project is ready to rock and roll. Again, it goes before the Coastal Commission on October 6th.
Look at the drawings. Then call your Councilman Kevin Faulconer at 236-6622, and contact Eric Stevens, staff to the Coastal Commission at 619-767-2370. Write them as well.
At bare minimum, the Coastal Commission must not approve the amendment, and it needs to send it back to our local planning committee, the OB Planning Board for a public review, and allow the people of OB a look at it. The people of Ocean Beach deserve this much.