Last night’s meeting of the Ocean Beach Planning Board was at times tense, and showed the strained relationship that sometimes happens between community groups and individuals of that community.
After the call to order, Chair Jane Gawronski cycled through regular business items quickly, approving the agenda, approving the last meeting minutes, and getting the treasurer’s report. The Chair then opened up the floor to comment from our local government representatives and public comment.
Shea Benton, District Representative for Congressman Scott Peters (D52), was on hand to introduce himself to the planning board and community. There are no updates from the 52nd district, but he did want to extend the invitation to the District Office’s Open House, held Saturday, February 16th from 10am-12pm (Press Release here )
Mike Patton from Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s office was not present.
Nicole Burgess from the Bike Path Community Advisory Committee was present to solicit feedback from the community regarding their current grant-writing efforts to introduce traffic-calming routes and roundabouts to OB.
Action Item: the Douma Residence Application for Variance
After public comment, the board moved to Agenda Item #001, the application for Variance for the Douma residence on the 5100 block of West Point Loma Blvd, easily the most incendiary issue of the evening. Architect Elizabeth Young was on hand to review the changed architectural plans for the site.
The current plans are to build a 1,712 square foot, three-story, two bedroom single-family home. The total height would of the building would be 29 feet, 7inches. The lot size is .05 acres and under FAR code, the new house would need to be 1,311 square feet. The Douma’s are applying for a Variance from the City in order to exceed the FAR limit by 400 square feet.
After Ms. Young made her presentation of the architectural plans, the Board allowed several community members to take the floor for public comment. On hand was Tom Boyer, a 40 year resident of OB who stated that the community would be blessed to have John and Cindy Douma, and should “send a limo to bring them in.”
Also in support of the Douma’s was Jim Kellian, a 27 year resident of OB and longtime friend of the Douma’s, who contributed that they’re a “fabulous couple.” Leif Henrikson, a 30 year resident of OB also took the floor to state that the proposed construction conforms well to the quality of newer homes built in OB, and would be an enhancement to the community. Another friend of the Douma’s, a woman named June, stepped forward to support the architectural plans and says that OB should “uplift” and “beautify” the area.
After public comment, each Board member was allowed to speak before a roll call vote was called.
Tom Gawronski stated he was opposed to the project, and can’t imagine a grounds or reason for requesting a variance, as this project meets none of the requirements.
Pete Ruscitti added that the community has the Ocean Beach Precise Plan for a reason, and the the .7 FAR code for a reason. He states that the answer is not obtaining a Variance, but building a house that is 400 square feet smaller. Refuting Ms. Young’s assertion that the proposed home is consistent with the neighborhood, Mr. Ruscitti said you can drive by the other houses that obtained variances and they are NOT in accordance with the neighborhood.
Bill Bushe noted that Ocean Beach has a special quality that makes it different from the communities of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, and that the Board wants to preserve the diversity of people, incomes, and houses. He states that the .7 limit was voted on to allow a chance for those who aren’t wealthy to live at the beach.
Barbara Schmidtknecht stated that she supports beautifying the neighborhood, as long at it “coincides with the rules.”
Ronson Shamoun asserted that there are requirements: a) Bulk and Scale and b) the FAR code, which they have so that OB is not overdeveloped. While Mr. Shamoun is pro-development and admitted to often being at odds with the rest of the Board, he has to deny the Variance.
Giovanni Ingolia took a different tack, stating that what needs to be properly done is a re-zone of the area, instead of the granting of Variances. He does not believe that the applicants are deprived of reasonable use of their property.
Chair Jane Gawronski was the last to speak, stating that she does not support the project’s request to reallocate parking space to habitable living space, and while it is a nice project and improvement, it does not conform to the existing Code.
A motion to deny the application for Variance for this project was made, and the Board voted unanimously in support of the motion to deny.
Letter from Mayor Filner States His Support for Board’s Resistance to Improper Variances
Relating to this project, the Board also revealed a letter they received from Mayor Bob Filner, in response to their request for a moratorium on the granting of Variances. In the letter, Mayor Filner supports the Ocean Beach Planning Board, stating that he is also concerned “that the approval of these variances has compromised the planning objectives which underlie your community plan, as well as introduced design elements into new construction which deviated from the standards adopted by the community.”
In the letter, Mayor Filner proposes three steps to resolve the issue:
- The Development Services Department will no longer approve or recommend to the Planning Commission approval of zoning variances on the affected block;
- The update of the Ocean Beach Community Plan, which is currently underway, will incorporate policy language which will preclude later approval of variances on this block. That is, the OBCP will, for example, include language stating that: a) there are no special circumstances or conditions applying to this block that do not apply generally to other land in the neighborhood, b) strict application of the regulations would not deprive a property owner of reasonable use of the land, and c) granting of a variance will adversely affect the Ocean Beach Community Plan. I urge you to work with the City staff to tailor the precise language of the community plan to address this issue appropriately.
- In the event that variance requests are approved by the Planning Commission, the OBPB will appeal the project’s associated environmental (CEQA) document. As you know, this step will automatically elevate the variance request beyond the Planning Commission to the City Council. I anticipate the City Council will respond in an informed and understanding manner to the issues raised by the community.
Mayor Filner’s positive response to the OBPB was met with gratitude. Chair Jane Gawronski extended her thanks to Filner, who had promised to support the neighborhoods in his campaign for mayor, and to Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, who met with the Board and also stated publicly in City Council that he would support the Board.
Redesign of Veterans’ Plaza to be Subject of Public Meeting on Feb 25th
The Board then moved to Steve Grosch from the OBCDC, who is the lead administrator for the redesign of the Veterans Plaza at the corner of Newport and Abbott. Through the County and the office of Ron Roberts, County Supervisor, they have secured a grant through Neighborhood Reinvestment. There will be a public meeting on February 25th at the Masonic Lodge, where the design firm will discuss the scope of the project. The OBCDC will be working with the OB VFW and the San Diego veterans groups on the project, and is looking for input from the community as well. They encourage all to attend.
Election Propositions Set for Ballot on Maintenance District for OB and on Fate of Police Trailer
The next agenda item was the Election Committee, who had very little to report. The committee opened the floor to Rhiannon Hardigan, who announced her candidacy for the currently vacant District 7 seat. Ms. Hardigan has been a resident of Point Loma/Ocean Beach for ten years. has a masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Cal Poly Pomona, and is an Urban Planner at UCSD.
Landry Watson proposed an Advisory Proposition to be added to the March ballot to ask the community if they would support the creation of a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) for improvements to the community such as sidewalks and landscaping.
Scott Therkalsen proposed an Advisory Proposition to ask the community if the Police trailer in the pier parking lot should be moved to a new, permanent location.
The motion for the two Advisory Propositions passed unanimously, and will appear the OBPB’s March 2013 ballot.
For further information on the Ocean Beach Planning Board, please contact OBPB Chairperson Jan Gawronski: firstname.lastname@example.org.