Large Abbott Street Condo Project Again Rejected – Almost – by OB Planners

by on September 3, 2015 · 3 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego


Proposed 2 story, 4 condo complex for 2150 Abbott Street.

Coronado House Approved and Re-Naming Park After Ruth Varney Held Supported

Last night, Wednesday September 2nd, the Ocean Beach Planning Board nearly voted to reject for a second time a large, proposed two story condo project for Abbott and Muir. Instead, their vote was tabled until the Board figures out its own policies under a particular City building green program.

Did you think that was confusing? You should have been at the meeting.

Okay, let’s try it again.

Last mid-June, the Project Review Committee, a sub-committee of the full Board which does an initial review and recommendation of all the projects heading to the OB planners, unanimously rejected a proposed 2-story condo project slated for the large empty lot at the southwest corner at Abbott and Muir. The project included 4 condos, decks on top, and first floor parking.

By a vote of 8 to 0, the sub-committee voted to recommend denial of the project, with the primary reason being that the developer’s plans were way out of conformance with OB’s FAR (floor-area-ratio). The developer was requesting a deviation to the FAR as it was asserting the project complied with the City’s Green Building Program.

The developer, Philip Covington, never brought the project back to the full Board. Instead, he and his consultant apparently met with Councilwoman Zapf staff. Exactly why they did this – an unusual effort for any developer – we don’t know. But the move irritated key members of the OB Board, and Covington & Co were accused of trying to circumvent the local planners, the Board that had promised to work with them.

Last night they were back. With the same basic proposal. Claiming that the project met standards of the Green Building Program (which we don’t understand yet), Covington’s consultant claimed that they were entitled to a “deviation” of the FAR. He cited a handful of green attributes, like solar power, zeroscape. Currently, the proposed condo project had an FAR of .80, it was claimed. (OB’s FAR is 0.70.)

The Green Building Program, in brief, is a City program designed to encourage the building of affordable housing, and if the developer meets certain standards, the developer is entitled to a certain “deviation” from City codes.


Covington’s consultant makes his presentation before the OB Planning Boad for the condo project.

And Covington and his Abbott Condos is the first project to come before the OB Board applying for a deviation under the green program. Yet it wasn’t just any deviation they were asking for. It was a request for a deviation from the most “sacred” part of the Ocean Beach Community Plan – the low and restrictive FAR – the tool OB community planners have used for nearly 40 years to prevent over-development in Ocean Beach.

At one time, San Diego city planning staff were issuing variances – improperly and probably illegally – to a handful of coastal property owners who benefited. The community volunteer planners rebelled and ensured that strong language ensuring that variances were legal was written in the updated plan. 4,000 people signed petitions last summer in support of the FAR’s restrictive language.

Historically, OB planners and their supporters have just gone through a long but successful process of having their updated Plan approved by all levels of  government – just recently by the California Coastal Commission – , where the FAR was a target of the San Diego Planning Commission and certain property owners. The struggle was over “variances” approved by the City to get around the FAR, and essentially OB won that fight.

Now the same fight appeared to be back – but in different colors. City planning staff, ensconced in the Development Services Department, seem to be encouraging developers to now obtain “deviations” to the FAR. Deviations are not variances, we’re told. But aren’t the effects the same? If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then ….?

So a few years ago, city staff was encouraging variances to the FAR. Now they’re encouraging deviations to the FAR.  Under the so-called Green Building Program. And in the name of affordable housing.

The Abbott Condos, if built, would be far from affordable housing. They’ll probably be sold to four property owners, who could simply turn around and rent them out as short-term vacation rentals.


OB Planning Board, Sept 2, 2015.

So, it’s with some frustration that the OB planners had to face this same project once again. And nothing of substance had changed. Their ire was evident in the at-times spicy back-and-forth with the developer and his consultant.  One Board member said he did a re-configuring of the claimed FAR and it was higher than the consultant had said ( 0.80 vs 0.88).

The basic message from the Board: the applicant’s project was way insufficient in its efforts to comply with the Green standards – “the bare minimum” so commented one Board member – and the Board was unlikely to approve a deviation to the most highly-valued element of the Community Plan with the little that the presentation showed. Not to mention the lack of documention showing any demonstrable green sustainability.

The Board’s discussion became very confusing when some members pushed for a clarification of the Board’s policy on granting deviations to the FAR based on sustainability accomplishments.  The next Board meeting will be devoted, at least partially, (it sounds like) to a determination of just what the Board would be willing to accept for allowing a building above the FAR.

So, in the end, a motion to deny the project was defeated, and a motion to table their recommendation until they had made their policy determination on the issue was approved. The developer will then return to the Board – for a third time – and see if he can get his permit for a higher FAR okayed.

Board Supports Re-Naming of Park for Ruth Varney Held Park

With a unanimous vote of 11 to 0, the Planning Board threw their weight behind efforts to rename what’s been called Saratoga Park for Ruth Varney Held, OB’s quintessential historian.  The park is the green area at the end of Saratoga Avenue, next to the sand.

Bluff Repair Project Approval Tabled

The coastal bluff repair project at 1759 to 1765 Orchard was placed on hold until the Board is able to review the geo-technical report from the City on the site.


Bluff repair project.

The Board tabled any vote until the report was in front of them – the project consultant didn’t mind as the project won’t be actually built until next March at the earliest. If built, it will cover 1250 square feet of bluff.

4821 Coronado House Approved

Without too much controversy, the proposed project at 4821 Coronado was approved by the Board in a vote of 11 to 0. The project will demolish a garage and build a two story single family residence in the rear of an existing house, built in 1939.



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth September 4, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Lots of decent people who work there, but overall, the City of SD is a diseased culture with little respect for the people that they exist to serve. This has nothing to do with green building and everything to do with finding yet another trojan horse to circumvent the code/law (and the overwhelming will of the community) in an effort to accommodate developers. Was obvious from the start that Councilperson Zapf has exactly no use for OB, and it will be a good day when she no longer feigns to serve as its representative.


Byron Wear September 14, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Councilmember Lorie Zapf has been very supportive of Ocean Beach on land use and public policy issues since her election as our Councilmember. Byron Wear


Lori Hegerle September 6, 2015 at 8:39 am

Kuddos to the OB planning board for trying to protect the integrity and character of our community.


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