‘Bulky’ Condos Test New Community Plan – Report of Feb. OB Planning Board Meeeting

by on February 18, 2016 · 19 comments

in Culture, Environment, Ocean Beach

ob bacon 1764 newdesign‘It’s not what the community wants’

By Tony de Garate

“It’s not a bad plan — it’s just not OB quality.”

That was the summary from John Ambert, chairman of the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB), after reviewing a proposal to tear down a century-old-but-dilapidated cottage and replace it with two detached, two-story, 30-foot-tall condos with underground parking at 1764 Bacon Street.

While OBPB members said they were sympathetic to the young couple that wants to sell one unit and use the income to live in the other, they made it clear the project faced almost certain rejection in the form that was presented February 3rd at the board’s monthly meeting.

The reason?

There’s a whole host of new residential development recommendations in the new Ocean Beach Community Plan – a document finally approved last month by the California Coastal Commission after more than a decade of a plan update process. The condos’ bulky design, most board members said, lacked a working understanding of these details that would likely doom its approval without significant – and probably expensive – modifications.

“I think there was a lack of due diligence on the part of the architect,” Ambert said after a presentation and discussion that lasted more than an hour and ended abruptly when staff from the Ocean Beach Recreation Center announced the building was closing.

The board could continue the discussion March 2nd at its next regular meeting, Ambert said. But Abhay Schweitzer, principal of Techne Design and architect of the condos, did not say whether he was willing to redesign the project to the board’s liking.

The proposal was a last-minute scratch on the February 17 agenda of the OBPB’s Project Review Committee, reportedly due to the unavailability of the applicant.

It’s the first project to come up for review since the new community plan went into effect last month and is seen as something of a test of just how enforceable community recommendations can be applied to a development.

A community plan is a statement of policy designed to guide growth over a period of around 20 years. Ocean Beach was first to have one in 1975. But the development of a new plan, which began in 2002, went in fits and starts over the years — until final passage last month.

The plan’s Urban Design Element makes recommendations on things like architecture, bulk and scale, roofs, materials and fenestration — but the degree to which a developer must abide by them is unclear. Furthermore, though the OBPB is entitled to review all but the most routine development proposals, its decisions are nonbinding.

All but one board member – Dan Dennison – said the condos were not acceptable in their presented form. And even Dennison said he’d like to see landscaping modifications.

“I’d hate to see that this is what we’re going to have in OB,” said  board member Georgia Sparkman, objecting to the facade’s lack of articulation, style of windows and lack of a yard facing the street.

“It doesn’t take any design cues from our historic small-scale character. I keep seeing projects like this, and it’s not what the community wants,” she said.

“We call this ‘the fortress look,’ ” Vice Chairman Blake Herrschaft said.

“Our job is to prevent us from becoming like Mission Beach — every building (there) looks like this.”

Schweitzer defended the design and contended the condos would be an improvement to the neighborhood. He also pointed out the condos would be less bulky than surrounding structures next door and across the street.

“Right now, it’s an eyesore,” Schweitzer said, referring to of the appearance of the house to be demolished, which sags due to suspected unpermitted modifications to the structure.

He said city staff had “no issues” with the proposed condos.

“We’re really trying to bridge the gap between what’s there and what’s appropriate,” he said.

Board member Tom Gawronski, who is also a member of the Ocean Beach Historical Society, agreed it was not economically feasible to preserve the cottage, which he said was built in 1911.

However, “I’d have a hard time replacing a cottage with a billboard. This is another one of these places that looks like a prison without more articulation,” he said.

Board member Craig Klein said he would ask the owners to agree not to sell either of the condos to someone who would market them as short-term vacation rentals, a controversial practice for which the San Diego City Council is considering regulations.

“If you build this, a speculator will offer you a significant premium (for use as a short-term rental). That’s what’s murdering our community,” Klein said.


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon February 18, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Huge props to our OBPB! And specifically Craig for rightfully tying in the STVR issue. When we were purchasing our home on Abbott last year, we were outbid by a “group of investors” I assume wanting to turn it into STVR. I suspect the owner had a real problem with selling to them for that reason. We came up a bit, but I still really think we lucked out. I have nothing against a large home, but as John said, do your due diligence. You can create a beautiful large home with set backs and articulation that fits in here. Quit with this boxy/mission beach style homes. It’s just not OB…


Geoff Page February 18, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I find it hard to believe the architect didn’t know about the community plan. This smells like one where the architect knew he did not have to conform to the plan that all he had to do was conform to the Municipal Code. The fact that City staff had “no issues” with the project is a perfect indication of what might happen. The Planning Commission already demonstrated a lack of sympathy for OB’s plan and they can ignore the board’s recommendation as they have in the past. If it is approved, it can be appealed but an appeal based solely on a community plan won’t be successful, the appeal has to be based on problems related to the Municipal Code. I would like to think that the City will listen to the OB Community Plan but on this, I am not optimistic.


Tony de Garate March 16, 2016 at 1:08 am

This project may return to the OB Planning Board next month, and I don’t know if the applicant intends to redesign or go full speed ahead with the current plan. About your contention that the OBPB may not appeal merely on the grounds of nonconformance to the community plan: can you post a link or other evidence supporting this? Thanks.


Geoff March 16, 2016 at 11:31 am


It has been a while since I looked at this section of the Municipal Code. An appeal can be made for the following reasons:

Conflicts. The decision to approve, conditionally approve, or deny the permit is in conflict with a land use plan, a City Council policy, or the Municipal Code.

The definition of “land use plan” includes community plans. If OB can demonstrate a real conflict with its community plan, it can appeal, but the record of the Planning Commission suggests this will be very hard to accomplish. My comment was unclear I guess. What I meant to say was an appeal based on the Municipal Code is much stronger than one based only on the community plan. From what I saw of this project, I think it will be hard to make the case that this project is in real conflict with the community plan but I hope I am wrong.


Tony de Garate March 17, 2016 at 12:54 am

Thanks for getting back, Geoff. Your point is well taken: it’s entirely possible a developer could more or less ignore the community plan but comply with with the letter of the municipal code and still prevail in an appeal setting.

If this proposal winds up being decided on appeal it could well set a precedent. I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s intriguing.

Do you recall offhand the outcomes of any appeals based on a community plan?


Geoff March 17, 2016 at 9:13 am


Your first paragraph is entirely accurate and reflects the past history wit hthe Planning Commission. And, your second paragraph is also spot on. This will be the first test. We will see if the OB Community Plan is as strong as everyone thinks and it will set a precedent either way.

As an example in OB, I would look to the tall skinny structures that went up next to the Dog Beach parking lot. The OBPB fought the first one pretty hard and lost and now there are three more just like the first one. In the Peninsula, we fought a project now underway on Voltaire just east of Catalina and lost three appeals on that one.


AJ July 28, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Tony, it is the responsibility of a developer to simply follow the rules, follow the code, and go through the process….He did it the right way…The rules and regulations, and code are set for a reason…We cannot have communities trying to control what gets approved and what doesn’t, it makes no sense because the developer will never appeal to everyone….What are rules for then!?! What is the code for then? This isn’t fair to developers….Im not even in that business, I sell cars…But this is just shameful..


OB Joe July 29, 2016 at 11:45 am

AJ – since by your comments you sound not on top of the local rules and regs – one of which is the 30 foot height limit. So get up to speed, buddy.

And btw, communities do and should have a say in what gets built in their neighborhoods – where have you been?


OB Dude February 18, 2016 at 3:27 pm

If the architect knew about the Community Plan he purposely chose to ignore it. If the plan was intentionally ignored then the architect should re-design or make the appropriate modifications for his client for no additional fee.

If the architect did not know about the Plan, the property owner should fire the architect and demand their money back or take them to court.

This architect’s mission statement says “We are a Design and Development firm specializing in residential, commercial and institutional with a special focus on working with investors and developers.” according to http://www.houzz.com/pro/technearch/techne-design-development

I am doubtful the applicant will not turn these over and re-sell however; it’s their prerogative to do so…they just need to abide by the community plan.

Thank you for upholding the plan.


korla Eaquinta February 18, 2016 at 4:56 pm

It seems that this is happening in the Peninsula area too. None of the new builds look anything like anything existing. The development in Roseville is changing the very fabric and character of the entire neighborhood. Jarvis 15 is going to be 15 units and somehow has approval under Process 1. There will be NO community review before they are built. The neighborhood is frustrated. It is just a shame.


AJ July 28, 2016 at 9:22 pm

None of the new buildings look like anything existing because everything existing is super old and crapy…these projects improve the community and enhance it…have a vision… the character of roseville is that everything is super old and it needs to be renovated and improved!! we need more housing! its just a fact…THINGS CHANGE…
with all due respect.


OB Joe July 29, 2016 at 11:47 am

That’s right, AJ, tear everything old down because it’s old, change Roseville forever. We do need more AFFORDABLE housing – you’re forgetting that.


RB February 18, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Home and condo buyers demand larger kitchens, open floor plans, and larger windows for more light. So why is everyone surprised that the outside of buildings look different, given the changes going on within?


AJ July 28, 2016 at 9:25 pm

because these people don’t have a vision and like to get involved in everything around their small world…plus they don’t realize that the community is old and what is happening in Point Loma and OB right now is great!!! new development, enhancement, more housing, which leads to more restaurants, more everything….which is great for the local economy….
People don’t like change and the world simply doesn’t work that way.


OB Joe July 29, 2016 at 11:50 am

Wow, AJ, you really are getting around and getting your opinion out there. Maybe I’m one of those people without YOUR “vision” and definitely one of those who “like to get involved in everything around their small world”. I’m so happy you’re so glad about all the new developments, more restaurants and more of everything, and it’s certainly great for the economy – except those displaced by vacation rentals, new McMansion condos and by the higher rents that these allow.

Thanks AJ – now STFU


Aj July 30, 2016 at 8:40 am

You are no longer worth my time. Difference of opinion.


Dave February 18, 2016 at 10:08 pm

I walked by this house the other day, noticed it had been vacated since I last went by (used to pass it daily, but I’ve since moved and don’t get into south OB much) and thought to myself “Self, wouldn’t it be awesome to buy this house, maybe expand it a tiny bit while restoring the original charm, and add a small one-bedroom over the garage to rent out until my daughter’s old enough for a place of her own?”

Sad to see this ridiculous eyesore is what the new owners want…but if they decide to sell it to someone interested in preserving neighborhood character, I’m listening!


Jeffeck February 19, 2016 at 7:47 am

Conservative/ libertarian here. I prefer to let people do what they want with their own property but I have to agree with the Planning Board on this.

The agreement of this community is to keep its unique nature and not to be an extension of Mission Beach. Does every building need to be a cottage or a cinderblock duplex? Nope. In fact, I like the structures at the end of West Point Loma that the OB Rag is so worked up about. I would not mind that block to be a whole row of those structures but I don’t think every structure should look like them all over town.

Each parcel must be looked at, as OBPB doe, on a singular basis. This one look as some one said above, too institutional, prison-like for that neighborhood.

I say add some character make it fit in that particular neighborhood. Sorry for the loss of money on design but if your architect stands by his/her work they should be able to help you with minimal cost.

OBPB, please remember though that architecture has changed as well. Thank you for being there and thank you OB Rag for covering these issues. Your local coverage is second to none.


nostalgic July 29, 2016 at 1:26 pm

This is not about OB. It is from a different announcement for a building permit in another community. Here is the quote from SD DSD: “a Process 3 Site development permit for the demolition of an existing four unit apartment building and the construction of a thirty-four (34) unit multi-family apartment building. … The project has been submitted into the Affordable Housing Expedite Program and proposes an Affordable Housing Density Bonus Project. The maximum allowed base density is 26 units. The project will allow three dwelling units…for very low-income houses. The project qualifies for …10 additional dwelling units and two incentives.” Bottom line is: 34 units where 24 are suitable. 10 units added to get 3 low income. The two incentives are likely to be variances on parking. This is just an example permit.


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