A new notice from the City of San Diego has appeared on the wire fence surrounding the corner lot at Voltaire Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Posted on March 7th, it announces that City staff will decide whether the owner of the lot – World Oil – gets an extension on their plans for a two-story “medical building”, called Sunset Plaza.
World Oil and their controversial projects for that corner have bounced back and forth for many years – going back to the late Nineties. Finally in the summer of 2009, the OB Planning Board approved – albeit with conditions – the construction of the controversial building. Critics have called the planned building all kinds of names – one that stuck – to use the vernacular – is “butt ugly”.
World Oil’s project was approved by the Planning Board back on August 5th, 2009 – 3 1/2 years ago. But for whatever their reason, the company has not moved on their concrete and glass-heavy edifice. And now with the deadline on their original construction permit nearing its end, World Oil is pushing for an extension.
Staff at the Development Services Department will make their decision without a public hearing. The notice states that any decision to approve, modify or deny the applicant’s request will be made “no less than eleven (11) business days from the Date of Notice.” With the notice date being March 7, no decision will be made before March 22 (by our count of business days).
The Notice also states that if you wish to receive a Notice of Decision, you must submit a written request to the City Project Manager – who is Morris Dye. Dye can be reached, as the Notice declares, at 1222 First Ave., MS 501, San Diego, CA 92101-4155; phone: 619-446-5201; email: email@example.com ) The written request must be submitted “n0 later than ten (10) days from the Date of Notice.” That’s March 21st.
The Planning Board voted to approve the project with conditions, that the project include “green building sustainability”. Here’s how we reported it then:
Before a small crowd of about a dozen interested residents, the Board first narrowly defeated a motion to deny the project as it was presented. This was a 5 to 6 vote. Then the twelve panel members present voted on another motion to approve the project with the condition that the project achieve some kind of green building sustainability. This passed by a vote of 11 to 1. A couple of Board members were absent – their presence could have defeated the project potentially.
A number of audience members spoke against the project during the public comment period – not one person spoke in favor of it.
The project, as explained by World Oil rep Leslie Burnside, had to come back before the Board as the City had mandated several changes. Burnside has carried World Oil’s water since 1999 when the corporation tried to install a gas station at the prominent corner. The new artist’s renderings of the two-story office building slightly altered the old drawings – there was less stucco and glass.
Other issues were the poor architectural elements of the building. With fake railings, fake balconies, fake brick, and dark glass, it resembled “a wooden frame box.”
One speaker offered the point that World Oil needs to demolish the old Dover Plumbing building on the adjacent lot in order to build the Plaza, which could be an historic building. “Our cultural landscape is being destroyed,” the speaker said.
Once the public comment period was closed, the Board proceeded to discuss it. Points were made that the project adhered to the Precise Plan standards and rules set by the City, that the project will take a year and a half to build and the economy may have turned around by then, that the intersection was not the entry way into OB. I counted at least four Board members who favored it. One Board member stated that the Board “is not the style police” in terms of design.
Opposing panelists cited that the project did not conform to the community’s character, that it violated a goal of the Precise Plan in keeping the business district to a small scale, that the original approval by the Board was contingent on the design taking on a “green design” – which it had not. One member said that the Precise Plan has an urban design character that mandates the Board to monitor and judge strutural plans of projects – in countering the premise that the Board is not “the style police.” I counted three members who were against the project.
When the votes came down, the original motion to deny it was based on that it lacked green sustainability, it was not consistent with the neighborhood character, was out of scale with the community, and not compliant with the Precise Plan requirements of bulk and scale. This was defeated.
The motion that did pass contained the following language (as best as I could tell): motion to approve the project contingent on achieving of a green-building rating system. It was openly stated that the Board was not approving it as presented. This face-saving measure passed nearly unanimously.
It is unclear whether the project has to return to the Board for some kind of final approval once the contingency has been met. Plus, what or who will ensure that the project does in fact achieve this contingency of green sustainability. Otherwise, what’s the point of adding conditions?
I have sent these issues and questions via email to the Board’s chair, Brittany Taylor.
Some observations: the Planning Board is definitely split regarding these types of projects. Some on the Board feel that they have no power to question styles and designs of projects, as the Board is “not the style police.” Clearly, however, the Precise Plan, the underlying document empowering the Board, does give the panel this authority – that’s the whole point of having a Planning Board. There are obviously members who appreciate the role of the committee and the tension with developers, people who defend the community’s character and the majority of its residents – the tenants.
Not only is the Board split, the vote could have gone the other way if all Board members had attended this important meeting.
The turnout from OB residents was better than the December 3rd hearing last year, so interest has grown over this issue. …
Here is more text from the Notice not already quoted or referred to above:
Notice of Future Decision
This is a notice that the Development Services Department staff to make a decision to either approve, conditionally approve, modify or deny an application for a Process 2 Extension of Time requested for the Sunset Plaza Offices, Coastal Development Permit No. 506870 to construct a 6,609 square foot office building. …
The decision may be appealed within 12 business days after the decision date.
You may contact Jane Gawronski of the Ocean Beach Planning Board, 224-1280 to inquire regarding planning board meetings, dates, locations for community reviews of the project.