Last night at the Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting, the planners unanimously rejected an application to build a three story house in the 5100 block of West Point Loma Boulevard, in northwest OB. The vote was 9 to 0; the vice-chair had recused himself and had left the meeting before any discussion or vote.
If it had passed and ended up being built, this proposed building would seriously add to the gentrification occurring on that particular block of West Point Loma Blvd., which butts up to the beach and its grassy area. The Burk family had submitted the application to demolish the existing two-unit, one-story place at 5170 W. Pt. Loma and construct a three-story, one-family residence, with just less than the maximum allowed, 1750 square feet. If ever built, the Burk residence would join two other similar 3-story projects that either have already been built or have been approved. The last applicant – the Cox residence – was fought by OB planners all the way to the Coastal Commission – unsuccessfully.
So, last night, the planners were unified in their opposition. The main reasons for their stance were:
- To be built, the Burks needed at least two variances from the City of San Diego; there are required standards to obtain a variance and the planners did not believe that the Burks had met them;
- The three story behemoth does not conform to community character;
- The property owners knew that the lot was a “sub-standard” one when they purchased it, so they can’t complain now that the lot is too small for their life-style in order to get a variance;
- Any blight in the neighborhood is caused by the property owners’ neglect, and cannot be used as an excuse for a variance;
- Allowing a precedent to be set with this project to be built would affect all of north OB, not just that block of West Point Loma;
This meeting for me ended up being one where I was full of pride for the Board members when they took their vote to reject the Burks’ application. I didn’t feel that way walking into the meeting room where the Board had already begun. There was only about 11 people in the audience – none of whom I recognized. One guy was with one of the politicians who regularly sent reps to these meetings, 4 were the Burks and their architect and a friend who spoke in favor of their project, one young man was there on a different project. What this meant is that the OB activists and people who follow the Planning Board or who are concerned about the gentrification on this block of West Point Loma did not show up.
Despite the OB Rag‘s announcements, articles and pleas for residents to attend to the meeting and to be up on this issue, the cold, wintry night must have kept folks at home – except for a brave handful. It cannot be for a lack of concern about the gentrification process emerging in northwest OB that kept people away. Not in this town.
Back at the meeting, and just before the Burk resident application was addressed, Vice-Chair Landry Watson announced that he was recusing himself from the issue for any appearance of or potential conflict of interest, got up and departed from the room entirely. This left the Board with only nine members in attendance.
All eyes then were diverted to the Burks’ architect who gave a presentation of their proposed building. He described how the proposal needed two variances from the City, one to allow building space that is supposed to be for a garage to be used instead for living space, giving the Burks room for a third story bedroom. And a second variance to allow a set-back to the car port.
But it was the request for a variance for a change in what the OB Precise Plan requires in terms of the percentage of buildable space being used for a garage that drew the opposition from the Board; the Burks wanted a variance that would allow them to use this 25% for a garage for the living space, and build up to 30 feet for a bedroom on the top story, and this didn’t sit well with the planners.
When it came time for public comments, one older gentleman got up to speak in favor of the project – and no one got up to speak against it. This was incredible, I thought – so I had to at the last minute. I won’t bore you with the details, but the guy next to me thanked me when I sat down.
Then the Board members themselves gave their opinions. Tom Gawronski hammered the project for needing variances that were only properly granted through a process that had requirements – and the Burks did not meet them. “Deprivation is not found,” he said, deprivation being one of the standards. He also stated that any blighted area – another requirement – was the result of property owners’ allowing their properties to get run down.
Bill Bushe – newly appointed to District 1 where he lives after resigning from sitting for District 5, summarized his stance by saying that granting a variance is a very serious move, “as it creates precedents, … there are no special circumstances here, there’s no reason to for someone to be granted a variance.”
Next to speak, Scott Thekalsen agreed that yes, the design showed a nice house, but the requirements for variances are not met.
At this point, Mrs. Burk – who was sitting in the front row -broke in and blurted out, “Why can’t we have what we want? If we want a third bedroom or two bedrooms and a library …?” Then, directing herself to the Board members, she said, “Maybe some of you have a bigger house than this,” – referring to her plans – which created murmurs and scoffing among the planners.
Craig Klein the lawyer and Board member went next. The Burks knew it was a sub-standard lot, he said. “There’s plenty of space within 92107 to buy bigger lots – 50 by 150. This project cannot be built without variances. And the legal requirements are not met.”
Following Klein was Nancy Taylor who plainly stated she cannot approve it, and agreeing with Klein, said the owners knew what the bought when they bought a small lot. The proposal, she said, ” does not conform to the community character.”
Making the point that any precedents created here with variances “concerns all of north OB, not just this block,” was veteran planner Seth Connolly.
“Seth said it all,” was Jane Gawronski’s statement, the retired PhD educator was going to vote against the project.
Finally, Chairperson Ingolia went: “I can’t vote for it – you can live comfortably within 1250 square feet” – the living space allowed on that size lot.
Tom G jumped in: “We fought the last project (the Cox residence) all the way to the Coastal Commission, and we’ll go that far for this one.”
Ingolia called for a motion, and Tom made one to reject the proposal. It was seconded, and all hands went up. Nine to zero opposed the project – voting in favor of the motion. Nice.
So, even though the turn-out from the community was very low, the village planners held their ground – and voted for the community and against more gentrification.
Viva the Ocean Beach Planning Board! Viva!