It appears that the applicant of a residence on West Point Loma Boulevard has withdrawn its appeal of a denial for variances by the Ocean Beach Planning Board. The applicant of the Douma residence at 5168 West Point Loma notified the City Clerk that it is taking its appeal off the docket for the San Diego Planning Commission; the project will now fall back to city staff.
At the February 15th meeting this year of the OB Planning Board’s Project Review Committee, the board voted to deny the Douma applicant’s request for variances the applicants claimed they needed in order to build their planned demolition of the existing duplex and construction of a three story residence.
This means that the decision of the Planning Board could stand. The Douma residence was one of four along that section of West Point Loma that OB and its planners has been going to the mat with the city about the granting of improper variances to property owners.
The OB Planning Board denied the Douma applicant because the Board believes that the way the city has been approving the variance requests has been an abuse of the whole concept of variances. According to city law, variances are to be granted for special circumstances only. They said this decision followed the Precise Plan and was also consistent with their past recommendations.
At the time of the denial, planners pointed out that – in regards to the applicant’s claim of “hardships” - there are hundreds of units in the zoning area that all possess the same supposed “hardships” that the Duoma property had. The Board has felt for awhile that it is standing up to encroaching gentrification – a negative process of urban renewal that supplants one economic class for a higher one that can afford the new costs of McMansions along OB’s coast.
In order to request and permit a variance ( permission due to special conditions) to existing zoning requires the owner to prove a recognized hardship that is specific to their piece of property (and presumably not applicable to the other properties in the zone). According to Elizabeth Young, then-representative for the proposed Douma construction, the property presents 3 hardships including:
- A substandard lot
- No alley access
- Land is in a flood zone (subterranean parking inadvisable)
The Board has believed for a while now that if the city thinks that these variances should be granted (which seems to be the case since proposals that were universally denied by the OBPB were granted by the city) then the city needs to rezone the area.
At the time, then-Board member Seth Connolly spoke for the entire Board when he stated:
“Using variances to work around a zoning issue is incorrect. It places undue strain on the Planning Board’s resources by requiring it to review possibly hundreds of similar requests and it places undue burden on the residence owners by greatly increases the cost of acquiring a permit.”
It was suggested that the city’s willingness to encourage requests for variances (rather than trying to rezone the area) could be seen as a tax grab. When asked by a Board member of how much they spent on the application for the variance, the applicant said that the deposit alone cost them $5000.
One fear of OB-lovers is that if allowed, the building of McMansions along that stretch of West Point Loma would create a virtual wall of concrete, blocking off views and spatial relationships with the ocean by other residents. Critics of the city’s variance policy point to sections of Mission Beach, Mission Bay and Pacific Beach as examples of gentrification that has been detrimental to those communities.
The Ocean Beach Planning Board acts as an advisory board only and that the city is not obligated to listen to the OBPB’s recommendations. The City has consistently decided to ignore the OBPB’s recommendations on the last 4 projects of this type.
According to the OBPB bylaws the “Purpose of the Community Planning Group and General Provisions”, Article III states:
In reviewing individual development projects, the Board should focus its review on assuring conformance with the adopted community plan and/or the General Plan**. Preliminary comments on projects may be submitted to the City during the project. (Read OBPB Bylaws here)
Brenda McFarlane also wrote parts of the above post.