Ocean Beach Planners Reject Latest Attempt to Gentrify West Point Loma Blvd.

by on December 8, 2011 · 8 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

A unanimous vote by the OB Planning Board rejects the proposal for 5170 West Point Loma Blvd, December 7, 2011. Bill Bushe, Tom Gawronski, Barbara Schmidtknecht, Scott Therkalsen, Chair Giovanni Ingolia, Craig Klein, Nancy Taylor, Seth Connolly, and Jane Gawronski vote against the proposal.

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!

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar clarification December 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm

One point on the story: “with just less than the maximum allowed, 1750 square feet” the 1750 sq ft quoted does not include the parking which is required. In other words the variance was requresting that the parking not be included in the FAR value or that the FAR max of .70 be increased.

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avatar john December 9, 2011 at 12:03 am

Since this is an ongoing story, it would be nice to see a list of related previous articles, even incomplete, somewhere on the page to allow readers to see details that would be unnecessarily repeated in each successive installment.

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avatar OB law(yer) December 9, 2011 at 9:16 am

I’m told that in a stroke of irony that the City Attorney has provided a response to the Planning Board’s inquiry about this re-zoning by variance as well. Although a non-conclusive response, it should be important that the Attorney points out that in order to grant a variance, findings must be met (which you’ve captured the most important one above). Specifically, it must be determined that ‘special circumstances’ exist that preclude an applicant from developing to the allowable limits of the zone.

No applicant, city staffer, Kevin Faulconer, or anyone has been able to make a case for these ‘special circumstances’ — to date… None of them. — because they don’t exist.

The City has been trying to raise the FAR in OB for years and now they are doing it…one parcel at a time. And they aren’t even hiding it. They are doing it right on its face.

Congrats to the Planning Board for supporting the law and also for supporting the zoning requirements that keep OB unique. Great job to the OB Rag on the continuing coverage of this now SAGA. It is clear that the City isn’t going to quit….they are going to continue to grant these variances — Who can possibly stop them?

Do we have ANY allies at ANY level of government? Can we force Faulconer to provide an editorial response as to why he has continued to turn a blind eye to this ILLEGAL DEVELOPMENT and subsequent gentrification?

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avatar mike December 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

A common, old, and drab phrase rings the bell of unfortunate truth – “Follow the money”. I don’t think there are any allies in government anymore. Someone, please stand up.

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avatar john December 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I think Faulconer did do just that in a recent issue of the Peninsula Beacon.

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avatar Seth December 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I can confirm that this is what took place at this week’s meeting. The gist of the discussion here is that the FAR requirement in OB states that homeowners must dedicate 25% of their allowable space to enclosed parking. If they have 1,800 sqft of buildable space, only 1,350 of it can therefore be habitable, with the other 450 dedicated to an enclosed garage.

The variances being granted allow homeowners to use the full 1,800 sqft (or whatever their property’s limits are) for habitable space, with the parking excluded and within a carport. The Planning Board’s argument has been that, in the aggregate, these variances equate to a “de facto rezoning” of North OB. The variance process is intended to address special circumstances or hardships, and not to serve as an end-around for the existing rules. If the existing rules need to be changed, there is a separate process for that, in which the public would have extensive input.

The City Attorney’s memo rejected the claim of a “de facto rezoning” taking place based on these variances not changing the “use or intensity of use” of this zone. My reply at the meeting was that there are many other properties in this area which have some combination of the same general dynamics involved (same lot dimensions, no alley access, flood zone), and that these variances essentially allow for an extra bedroom’s worth of habitable space on ALL of the properties who can make this same argument. Each new bedroom added is a new resident to OB, putting greater burden on our roads, schools, water, sewer, electricity, etc..

If we are only talking about one block of homes, and perhaps ten new bedrooms, this impact is not so drastic, and perhaps the City Attorney’s findings on the variances not increasing the intensity of use have some merit. But given that many other homeowners in the same zone can make most or all of the same argument, based on the most or all of the same dynamics, we are potentially talking about a lot more than ten new bedrooms.

Taken to the full extent, and I am not sure why it wouldn’t be, granting these variances for everyone who can lay claim to the arguments being used for them *absolutely*, quantifiably increases the intensity of use of this zone.

The City Attorney’s memo also went on to outline the criteria for granting a variance, which depends on being able to make four main findings. It was mentioned by several at the meeting that one of theses is that the “strict application of the Land Development Code would deprive the applicant of reasonable use of [their] land”. Therefore, the argument for these variances is dependent making the finding that the FAR limit of roughly 1,350 sq ft of habitable space, as opposed to 1,800 sq ft when enclosed parking is omitted, is depriving them of reasonable use of their land.

Speaking only for myself, I reject nearly all of this out of hand. It is my belief that:

* Granting these variances to all who can make the same arguments for them WILL result in a increase in the intensity of use of this zone.

* Applying the current FAR regulations DOES NOT deprive homeowners of reasonable use of their properties.

* This IS an inherently ILLEGAL abuse of the variance process that does in fact equate to a de facto “rezoning”, or if one prefers, a de facto changing of the FAR requirements of the zone.

Please understand that I have no issue with the homeowners who are seeking to improve their properties within the rules that exist. They have every right to do so, and in most cases, this is a benefit to the community at large. The argument here is that the rules that exist are not being applied, which in my view is neither legal nor fair.

Seth Connolly
District 4 Representative
Ocean Beach Planning Board

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avatar mike December 12, 2011 at 10:22 am

I have been apartment searching with my girlfriend for the past two months now. Another sign of gentrification is the fact the approximately 15% of landlord will rent to us because we have a 45lb black lab. This is pathetic. I have been turned away from place less than 100 yards or one block from DOG BEACH.

What is happening?

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avatar john December 12, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Yeah, that’s a tough one. It’s one of the reasons I have not gotten another puppy since my shepherd/lab mix Bear (100 lbs!)passed away 4 years ago.
However is it directly related to gentrification? Perhaps, because of course if you were in the market for a $2500 a month rental which affords a home with a decent sized yard you’d find a lot of places to accomodate that pet. Along with that the situation with many losing their homes from failed mortgages and having to rent leaves it a landlord’s market right now. They can be pickier when selecting a tenant and the liabilities they will risk.

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