Planned Houses on Brighton Exceed OB’s Floor Area Ratio

by on September 29, 2015 · 7 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego


5109 Brighton Ave. How old is this unit?

5109 – 5111 Brighton: 2 Old Houses to Be Demolished and “Deviation” From OB’s Community Plan Sought

Once again, developers are attempting to push the envelop of OB’s famous FAR – floor area ratio – under the guise of building a “green” project.

OB’s FAR is 0.70 – and has been used as a tool by community planners as a way to slowdown over-development. This FAR is ingrained in the OB Community Plan – just approved last month by the California Coastal Commission. (Yes, there is another step before final approval, but for all practical purposes, the Plan is alive.) OB’s FAR means developers can only build residences that are 70% of the square footage of the lot.

A proposed project for 5109 and 5111 Brighton calls for the demolition of two old houses and the construction of two single-family residences.  Trouble is, according to our count – the planned residences will total 4,668 square feet on a lot that is only .12 acres – or approximately 5,227 square feet.

This equates – if our numbers are correct – to an FAR of 0.89 – obviously over OB’s FAR of 0.70. (Please, if we missed something here, let us know.)


This shows the drive-way, garage and walkway to rear house. Notice slope of drive-way.

Now the developer – represented by applicant Elizabeth Carmichael of EcoHouse Architecture – plans to achieve this FAR because they are planning on constructing the houses under the City’s Affordable / In-Fill Housing and Sustainable Buildings Expedite Program.

The developer believes – for some reason – that they can obtain a “deviation” to the city’s code – in this case, the Ocean Beach Community Plan and its FAR – if they build sufficient eco-friendly elements.

Plans of the developer call for “a roof-mounted photovoltaic system consisting of solar panels sufficient to generate at least 50-percent of the project’s projected energy consumption, in conformance with the criteria of the … Program.”

If the buildings are allowed with the developer’s planned FAR, they will be bulkier and out of conformance with the surrounding neighborhood.


Rear house at 5111 Brighton.

More formally, an application has been filed with the City for a Process 3 Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to do the demolition and construction.

And at some point, the OB Planning Board will take up the project.

This is not the first time a developer has applied for a deviation to OB’s historic FAR based on assertions of being “environmentally-friendly”.

At the September meeting of the Board, there was a similar effort that involved 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. The Board’s decision on the project was delayed.

The issue has been bubbling up to the surface – and the Planning Board had a special meeting to discuss their policy.

The two houses up for demolition are old – how old we do not know. It would be neighborly if the City notice of the project included the age of the structures. (While you’re at it, City, why not include the FAR and the size of the lot in square footage, as well as the name of the actual owner of the property on the notice.)

Whether these houses meet the criteria of OB’s Historic Cottage Program is also unknown. Someone would have to do a study to determine if there was any historic value. But who is going to do that? The owner? Not if the owner is dead set on developing modern housing – whether or not it exceeds OB’s FAR.

Other than the historic issue, the more immediate issue is the over-sized FAR planned for the new construction. This ought to be a deal breaker for the Planning Board.

OB has fought too long and too hard for its FAR – as recently as Summer of 2014, 3000 people signed petitions in support of the FAR specifically – for some developer to come along and achieve a deviation to it just because they have solar panels on the roof.  And the Planning Board members are well aware of this history – why, some of them were on the front lines of the recent battles with the City, developers, the Planning Commission, etc.

So why is the City now pushing these “deviations”? This remains a mystery – any housing constructed under the terms of the so-called green building program will not be affordable.

Okay, so reward developers with something if they install solar panels – not just because it’s now the thing to do – but a deviation from OB’s FAR is not the reward or the answer.

One irony to this project is that the city program manager is William Zounes – who lives in OB. It was his mother, Maryann Zounes, who was the first general chair of the OB Planning Board and who helped lead the initial fights for the FAR of Ocean Beach.

Some environmentalists have nicknamed so-called green programs like this as “Green Wash”.

Wikipedia says green washing:

is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly. … Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly.

GreenPeace defines it as:

Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Perhaps the City’s program is not such an example of green washing. But when construction and developments are pushed that would have negative effects on the environment, the culture, and the community – all under the guise of implementing green elements into the design, there is a dis-connect.  And we’re not sure where it is. (Watch this space for the OBPB meeting time on this project.)

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

tyler September 29, 2015 at 2:04 pm

5109 has gone to sh*t since the new tenant moved in. The gentleman who occupied it before was a great member of the community but unfortunately passed away earlier this year. Now it’s just turned into a ugly pile. Would love to see the property restored within accordance of the FAR, and given to tenants that won’t turn the property to crap within 3 months.


Tessa September 29, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Dear O B Rag –
As I prepare to move away from dear O.B., after several wonderful years, to a community where I can actually afford to buy a small home, I urge you to keep up the good fight – keep O.B. a place where regular working people can afford to rent near the ocean, a place with character as opposed to sterility. O.B. is only as cool as it is because of dedicated community members digging in, and staying dug in, over time.
All I can say about this article is….more of the same. Between developers looking to make a buck, and Air B and B home purchasers – also out for the almighty dollar – O.B. is (as usual) under assault.
O.B. will only continue to be seven square miles surrounded by reality if everyone who lives here does his/her part.


Local Observer September 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm


The .70 FAR does not apply to the RM 1-1 zone. If you look at the Municipal Code under Chaper 13, Article 1, Division 4, Page 45 you will see a chart and the second line from the bottom is the Max floor area ratio. You will see footnotes in parentheses next to the numbers. If you go down to page 49 you will see that footnote 29 is the .70 FAR for the Peninsula and OB. That footnote does not apply to RM 1-1, it only applies to the RM 2-4 zone. It appears that the variance they are asking for is the .75 FAR allowed for an RM 1-1 with a maximum density of 3000 square feet. The bigger problem is that you need 3,000 square feet of lot for each unit and a 5,227 square foot is too small, UNLESS they are going for the Affordable Housing Density Bonus. Chapter 14, Article 3, Division 7. If you look on page 47 at the top is Maximum permitted density with footnotes 1 and 2 that are explained at the bottom of page 48. Footnote 2 is the one to look at.


Pete R September 30, 2015 at 10:03 am

I think you’ve misread the zoning map. This property is in the RM-2-4 zone, but your comment is about the RM-1-1 zone. In RM-2-4, the allowable FAR is 0.70, and 1 unit is allowed for every 1,750 sqft of lot area.


dajohn September 29, 2015 at 5:00 pm

If we don’t have a program to incentivise building green above the minimum code standards who is going to build that way?


Kathy Blavatt September 30, 2015 at 10:48 am

We are living in OB… OBeacans have always been ahead of the the curb on apply GREEN to our homes and lives. Eleven years agoI tore out my lawn and put in a low water yard without getting paid incentives bucks. Most of my neighbors have done the same and we have done it with clippings from each others yards. Many of our neighbors collect rain water, have grey-water systems and/or some have installed solar. Many of us install GREEN projects as money comes along.
If the city is really worried about low income residents why have they allowed the nearby Stonewood Apartments to boot many of it’s low income residents and jack up the rents?
I am tied of wealthy getting incentives deals, while people doing the right things because it is the right thing to do, getting screwed!


Lori Hegerle October 1, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Well why not have a tax credit or something like that to build green. This will not be affordable! Just Say No to the Deviation (variance)……we can surly survive in homes without variances! All I see is GREED not GREEN!


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