Ocean Beach Planners Review New Design of “Ocean Park Villas” for First Time

by on October 21, 2011 · 19 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

Architect for the developer, Claude Anthony Marengo, showing the new plans for Ocean Park Villas at the OB Planning Board Project Review Committee hearing, 10-19-11. (All photos by Brenda McFarlane.)

From street level, the Ocean Beach Planning Board’s Project Review Committee meeting of October 19, 2011, appeared as just another pedestrian exercise for determining how much floor area ratio (FAR) can fit on the head of a pin. However, below surface grade lay a potential flood of liabilities for those entrusted with the public good in a era of irresponsible private interests.

There was only one item on the agenda; a request to amend the previously granted Coastal Development permit (#6-08-100) from the developer of the property located at 1984 Abbott Street. That corner of Abbott and Saratoga is now the proposed site of what has come to be called the “Ocean Park Villas.”

OB Planning Board members persuse the new plans.

How we got to this stage in the planning process is well documented . Appropriately, the Chair of the Project Review Committee, Landry Watson, himself a veteran of the spot zoning currently being waged on West Point Loma Blvd.,  admonished the handful of OBceans present to treat this request as a totally new item. By severing the current proposed development from the previous one, Mr. Watson led the property’s owner/developer, planning board, and community members to an objective understanding of the issue at hand. But if objectivity was the goal, its center of mass was missed, not only by the developer but by several board members and by members of the community at large as well.

It’s understandable for developers to have a subterranean agenda and to shunt the planning process in service to private interests, but it appears like poor policy for community planners and activists to get sucked into a storm drain of immaterial and distracting flotsam. What became the moving bulls-eye on a stationary target might have become more obtainable “if more of the community was present,” confided one board member after the meeting. Adding, “they better show up at the regular meeting in November or we (the community) lose this one (to private interests).”

What was apparent to that Board member, if not to everyone in the room, was woven through the framing of the issue by the architect for the developer, Claude Anthony Marengo, like Romex in a tract home.

If the requested amendment was related to parking and density, there was not a lot in Mr. Marengo’s presentation that dealt with these issues per se. By comparing the new proposal to the old one on issues such as view corridors, landscaping, etc., the architect didn’t appear level regarding the intent of his presentation. Only when questioned by District #2 Representative Scott Waschitz and others, did the developer’s facade show cracks. When asked if the proposal was in compliance with the (Ocean Beach) Precise Plan the developer’s architect replied yes.

But the truth is, that issues warranting review upon a foundation within the Ocean Beach Precise Plan weren’t up for discussion at this meeting and in fact, were not even taken into consideration when the California Coastal Commission granted a Coastal Development Permit to the previously proposed development. In addition, by not yet conforming to the land use code or the planning process, Mr. Marengo’s presentation did indeed “boggle the mind” according to District #1 Representative Tom Gawronski.

Community activist Kathy Blavatt accurately summed up the entire nights proceedings by asking, “What’s the public benefit?” To his credit, Brian Driesse representing Clark Reality Capital LLC stressed the property owner’s commitment to improving the communities where they choose to build. If enough OBceans show up when the full Board discusses this issue in November then we may have a chance to articulate to Mr. Driesse, Mr. Marengo, et al., what improving our community really looks like and give democratic community planning ‘a little love’ in the process!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sunshine October 21, 2011 at 11:07 am

what I would like to see developed at that site is a nice semi-circle of 2 story cottages with a water feature in the center. hey, that regular and seasonal flooding has to go somewhere…might as well drain into a center salt pond.

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avatar Sunshine October 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

no other comments here show volumes as to how the real estate developers are pushing their agenda thru. with no resistance from the community, they will eventually build what they want, wherever they want. nice knowing you, OB.

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avatar Sarah October 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hey Sunshine
I was thinking about this issue last night, specifically the thought was:

“No matter how many people show up at that meeting, the project will go forth as “they” want it.”

I’m not sure when I capitulated to the apathy. Probably about the time I realized that the thing people call “OB Pride” doesn’t really exist. “We” like to talk about it, but really… we talk about it as we step over piles of trash and puddles of human waste. “We” talk about it as we walk past storefronts that are defaced and allowed to remain that way. (the pink building on Newport Ave… the former SDYC facility is a great example of “OB Pride”)

I don’t see a lot of “Pride” around here, just a lot of talk about pride.

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avatar Sunshine October 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Hey Sarah,
I’m glad you were thinking about this issue the other night and were able to comment. I am sorry this has been reduced to a shitty (pun intended) problem for you. I sincerely hope you don’t remain apathetic too long.

What I don’t see is the connection you are trying to make between an undesirable architectural building at Abbott & Saratoga and the crappy state of sidewalks on Newport. I hardly think you are saying that by allowing these real estate developers to build what they want, completely out of scope and scale with the rest of the community, would in any way make the shit/trash problems on Newport go away.

I see a lot of good reasons to live here in my daily comings and goings. I see people show up at OBPB meetings and speak up for our mellow little town, I see many small business owners enjoying eeking out a living as they remain open during these difficult economic times, I see random acts of kindness regularly, I see planted flowers, fruit bearing trees, gardens where lawns used to be, I see personal artistic charm all over this community, and so much more.

Those that don’t care about this community will be the ones who litter and disrespect it in other destructive ways. While we can’t make people care, there are laws that can deter them from trashing OB and that’s what Danny was trying to bring to light in this article. The current property owners of Abbott & Saratoga don’t care what the community wants, they’re in it for the $$$.

I don’t want to see the main street by the ocean lined with view blocking buildings. The money available to build the proposed Villas would be better spent on community enhancements like more bathrooms so people won’t shit on the ground.

Do you agree?

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avatar Kenloc October 23, 2011 at 2:59 pm

“The money available”….what money is that? Someone elses money? Easy to tell someone how to spend their millions I suppose.
I am not understanding how this building is completely out of the scope and scale of the community.It appears to be smaller than the apartment complex across the street to the east,and the buildings across to the south are also large.
The only problem I see is with the parking.Just let them put it underground.Who cares if it floods if they dont?Nones car is going to be in there other than the people who buy the places.If they dont care why should anyone else?
Let’s just not let anyone do anything with that corner.Leave it the way it is with the rundown building right on the beach.What a great sign of community pride.
The silence does speak volumes.Perhaps people dont mind that corner being made to look nicer.

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avatar Sarah October 24, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Sunshine,

I totally agree! My comment was more introspective in nature, I suppose. I was thinking about Danny’s article and the plea that, “… If enough OBceans show up when the full Board discusses this issue in November then we may have a chance…”.

I’ll try to keep my apathy in check.

s

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avatar Sunshine October 27, 2011 at 11:14 am

thanx, Sarah. Danny can plea all he wants, yet unless individuals who care about this Village actually show up & speak up at the OBPB meetings, we will lose our comfy little village to those that only want to profit from undesirable real estate developments that DO NOT serve the public interests in any manner.

I’m all for people being able to do what they want, yet social responsibility is a factor not being considered here.

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avatar Seth October 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

I think there is plenty of pride in OB, that manifests itself in many ways. It need not be defined by the level of interest in a single development project. Speaking of which, I won’t comment too much on it as it is currently before the OBPB that I am a member of, other than to say the following…

1. This project went from one that debatably wasn’t getting enough scrutiny to one that is debatably getting a ton of it now. Whatever anyone’s thoughts on it, this is not a project getting approved under the cover of darkness, by any means.

2. I’m listening to whatever people have to say. The Board has an obligation to try to represent the will of the community (all of it) in their non-binding advice to the City, as well as to basic fairness. With that said, the community also has an obligation to be informed on the real issues of any project based on the facts associated with them. If you are opposed to a project, define what the public harm is, or inform where the parking should or should not go. Not everyone has to have the land development code memorized or anything, as all thoughts are welcome. But generally speaking, the more informed the opinion, the more helpful it is in terms of helping to represent it on your behalf.

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avatar BOBOB October 24, 2011 at 11:08 am

What if the majority of the community wholeheartedly welcomes the development???

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avatar The Bearded Obecian October 25, 2011 at 10:55 am

I would wager that a silent majority approves the development, especially OB homeowners. Not only will a nicer property clean up the area, but it will also help to increase value of other homes. When i walk around that area with my wife and are hit up for money and reply in the negative, and are subsequently told to go “f yourselves”, well perhaps an improvement along the beach will push that element further away.

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avatar OB law(yer) October 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm

My appreciation to Danny for covering this and so many other planning board discussions. I’ve read this through twice and although I’m sure it is my own fault for not being in attendance to hear for myself what actions the board completed, I’m left asking “What happened?”. Was there an approval? Are the applicants still recommending parking in the front yard? Is there still an unresolved question about the FAR and whether this project needs a variance?

@BOBOB and Bearded Obecian — If the majority of OB wishes to begin parking the front yard as this project suggests, then there is a democratic process for approving that, changing the law as it states (for the entire City), and ensuring that everyone in OB has a similar right to parking in the front yard instead of a garage where vehicles belong. Perhaps you both should get involved in the update of the community plan and also ensure this particular design tenet is included in that document to ensure it has lasting effect. Start by granting all of your neighbors this right as well… since you are both “homeowners”. I’ll wager you won’t. And I’ll wager that the folks in Point Loma, La Jolla and other areas of similar social arrangement won’t either.

Me personally… I do not wish to see peoples cars parked in the front yard. Apparently, a large VOCAL majority of folks in San Diego (and most municipalities as well) don’t wholeheartedly agree with you either — since this is the law and it is clearly stated in the SD Municipal Code.

It’s not about saying no to development….It’s about saying yes to development within the planning guidelines we’ve developed for the community. We have rules for a reason, and we don’t just go ignoring them because a few tattoed teenagers tend to hang out at the seawall — or a few rich fatcat deveopers want to circumvent the law in order to make a little more money on their project for having not to fully underground their parking (as the originally approved project indicated).

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avatar The Bearded Obecian October 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Why is “homeowners” in quotes? I, like many others who own in OB, have a vested interest in the improvement of our town. The parking is a red herring. The vocal contingent doesn’t want any new development that would improve OB.

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avatar Seth October 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm

There was a unanimous vote to send it to the full OBPB at the next general meeting without a recommendation. Some of the issues raised were relative to the exact square footages and FAR calculations presented, the issue of visitor parking spaces being located within the primary side yard setback on Abbott (code defines the Saratoga side as the front), and the presence of storage units within the enclosed garages relative to FAR.

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avatar Seth October 25, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Actually, it was not unanimous. My bad. There was one vote against sending it to the full board without any recommendation.

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avatar OB law(yer) October 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Thanks Mr Seth. Strange action indeed. Motion to make no recommendation. ok… no problem. I wasn’t there…I can’t second guess that. I’m guessing it translates to…no recommendation until we get some clarification?…which I’ve heard in the past.

So you asked clearly above to define the public harm or where the parking should indeed reside.

Clearly, if the City begins to allow parking in the setbacks, you will have vehicles parked ALL over the place and now an already pedestrian unfriendly ecosystem gets even worse when folks are walking around looking at cars parked in the front yards and such.

It is not only the law, but it is a long-standing urban planning best practice to put vehicles in the alleys and garages in order to produce a more pedestrian friendly environment.

Putting cars in the yard further separates pedestrians from the living areas and certainly does nothing to promote a connection between these two.

Parking belongs in garages or off alleys, where they don’t interupt the landscape for the connection between street, neighbors and such. In this case, we’ve actually seen the design where ALL of the parking is underground. It would appear to me that the new owner cares not to pay for such premiums as full undergrounding is attempting to circumvent the law.

You should not allow this for the pure sake of financial hardship. I hope you vote against such a discrepancy.

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avatar Seth October 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Your thoughts are appreciated. I can say in all honesty that I am still awaiting all the information, and further public input, before deciding to make any recommendation about this project. I offer no opinion or prejudgment here, but since it was a public meeting, I can relay some facts here.

First, many of your points were raised during the project review committee.

The current design is built up to the 0.7 FAR limit, and has a total of 25 parking spaces required for 10 units, which I believe are all one and two bedrooms. Of these spaces, 20 are enclosed in semi-depressed (but not fully underground) garages, and the rest are visitor parking spots that are within the side yard setback on Abbott Street, and if I recall correctly, one in the rear side of the property that faces the beach parking lot. The architect stated that his case to the City for these parking spots being allowed in the side yard setback on Abbott were that they were “temporary structures”, or something to that effect. Apologies if I am not exactly correct on this, but that is my interpretation of what took place.

I won’t try to paraphrase anyone else, but I personally stated a preference for the greater pedestrian-orientation of the previous design, and also expressed a possible willingness to recommend a variance to relax the parking requirements.

The public record would also show that I have in the past voted against projects in part due to their lack of pedestrian-orientation, including one by the architect of the previous design, at a different location in OB. Pedestrian-orientation of development is one goal of the Precise Plan, although I cannot yet answer to what extent that document applies to a project in the Coastal Overlay Zone. Nor can I yet answer whether or not there is some special circumstance at this property that many have referred to as “iconic”, or whether a side yard setback requirement could be met simply by moving the building footprint closer to the water.

All I can really say is that I am still listening to all parties involved, and that I appreciate informed opinions such as yours.

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avatar OB law(yer) October 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Only in quotes because no one has any way of confirming it. Not trying to be sarcastic, just trying to keep people focused on the law and the discussion…which clealry isn’t about who has more entitlement to have an opinion on the matter – as your post clearly indicates.

The parking is NOT a red herring, it is the law. This project suggests a violation of the law.

On the other hand, your attempt to distract folks and validate your statement above with the term “homeowner” is indeed a red herring — or…an obvious attempt at distracting the discussion from its true intent.

Try this for an exercise… replace “homeowners” with “A**Clowns” and see if your statement has any more validity than someone who replaces it with either “citizens” or “residents”. Simply put, it isn’t right to say that just because you made a real estate transaction that you have any more sway over the law than anyone else who resides in Ocean Beach. You have the same…single vote that any other person is afforded in this country and community.

Bring yours down to the meeting and speak up — As Mr. Seth is clearly asking in his post and whoever the mysterious planner quoted by Danny.

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avatar OB law(yer) October 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Here…. if you feel the Rag isn’t reputable enough on reporting the facts:

http://www.sdnews.com/view/full_story/16104146/article-Coastal-Commission-puts-off-decision-on-condos-development–planners-to-take-it-up?instance=update1

It is undeniable that the applicant is moving forward with a project that is in violation of the SD Municipal Code.

The only question now will be whether or not the City and the OBPB support such a deviation from the law.

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avatar danny morales October 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm

The identity of the mysterious board member won’t be revealed because those comments were taken out of context from an ‘off the record’ conversation after the 10/19 meeting, the subject of which is immaterial to the board’s decision.
That being said I’d like to clarify some of the points that were raised by comments to my post: First of all, although the direction of the board’s policy is coming out of the municipal code there are other issues that have been ignored to the detriment of the community enhancement standard. Secondly, the question arises as to the nature of democratic community planning. Is it a product of Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ or did it arise as a result of a ‘vocal minority’ agitating within the political system to codify it through the municipal code and guide it’s policy decisions through the precise plan. Finally, what is just compensation for the vacating of public land? Is $50K sufficient to compensate a community that is utterly deficient in public works improvements and suffering a tear of it’s social fabric between its haves and its have-nots.
I have more to say but it’s time to GET WET!

Peace and Love.
Danny 8-p

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