Ocean Beach Planners Okay Project on Bacon and Delay Vote on Controversial Abbott Condos

by on May 5, 2016 · 6 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach

ob bacon 1764 newdesign

Artist rendering of proposed development at 1764 Bacon.

The OB Planning Board held their monthly meeting Wednesday night, May 4th – and they were presented with the grand, final version of the OB Community Plan, they appointed two new people to the Board, approved one project on Bacon and decided not to vote on a controversial project at Abbott and Muir.

Board Appointments

Two new people were appointed to the Board. Vivian McCardle, a resident of Del Monte Avenue, was appointed to District 1. McCardle is active in the wild parrot group, SoCal Parrots – and the recent spate of shootings is what has motivated her to get involved in the community. When asked, one of her biggest concerns is that Airbnb, the short-term vacation rental giant, is not being taxed enough. She had polled residents in the district and some of their biggest complaints were noise, lack of parking, street sweepers that don’t show up.

The other appointee was William Corwin, who identified himself with environmental activists at OB People’s Food Co-op. Corwin was appointed to District 2.  One of his biggest concerns is the cutting down or over-trimming of trees in the right-of-way, especially along some of OB’s business streets. When queried about OB’s floor area ratio of 0.70, Corwin said he supported it and would “fight for it”.

OBPB Meet 5-4-16 board

The newly constituted Board (one member was missing).

Potential appointees need to meet all the requirements asked of any candidate to the Board. But often, due to attrition, there are empty seats, and the Board utilizes the appointment process to fill them. And often, new appointees are appointed to districts they do not necessarily reside or own a business in.

With the recent election of Marissa Spata to the Board – and with these two new appointed members, the 14-member board is getting closer to full strength. Plus with McCardle and Spata, the gender balance has much improved, as for awhile the Board was dominated by males. It is now 5 women and 6 men. By our count, there are still two open seats, one each in District 3 and District 5.

OBPB Meet 5-4-16 Bacon proj ed

The presenters of the Bacon project.

1764  Bacon Project Returns

Before the Board again, was a project to demolish an existing single family unit and detached garage at 1764 Bacon, and construct 2 units, each with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, in two-story structures. The lot is 3500 square feet, and each unit is 1200 square feet, with the project coming in just under OB’s FAR of 0.70. And parking is to be below grade, with 5 spaces.

OBPB Meet 5-4-16 Bacon proj cropLrg

A closer look at the designs for the 2 structures.

The applicants had appeared in mid-February, and after an hour-long presentation, the discussion had been cut short because OB Rec Center staff had announced that they had to close up the building. Yet up to then – back on February the Board overall had expressed a distaste for the bulky design.

OB Bacon 1764

Current buildings at 1764 Bacon.

In an excellent report for the OB Rag, reporter Tony de Garate described what happened and provided the background details and discussion.

“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 … 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. … 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.

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.  … 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.

At the end of that inconclusive February meeting, the applicant was invited to align the design with the new OB Community Plan. So, the applicant was back before the Board this past Wednesday, and after another lengthy presentation – that included claims that the building had been certified “LEED Platinum” – was asked by Board members several times if the latest drawings and design had been revised to be more in compliance with Board recommendations and feedback last time around.

And the answer repeatedly was that in addition to the LEED certification, the variety of  materials being planned gave the design of the buildings a softer look. They want to use concrete on the bottom, then wood, and then stucco. The applicant’s rep claimed that the scale of the building is in conformance of the surrounding housing, and then presented photos of some of the homes and apartments near the project site. This backfired in one sense, with Klein complained that the project was being compared to an old, fifties box apartment building – the design of which today is fairly universally condemned.

The applicant’s landscaper also got up and presented an explanation of how what was being proposed – drip irrigation, Mediterranean plants and self-maintaining trees – was more basis for approval.  There were issues of flooding in the garage, whether all the stormwater would be infiltrated on the property –  which is a goal of the Board.

It was also explained that the units will be “condo-ized” with the owner living in one of them, selling the other. After questioning by the Board and audience, the applicants were congratulated by a few Board members on achieving the LEED cert and for making efforts to comply – at least in their presentation – with the requirements of the newly-minted OB Community Plan.

Jane Gawronski moved to approve the project, Klein seconded it, and the Board voted 8 to 1 to approve with one abstention by one of the new members.

OBPB Meet 5-4-16 Abbott proj1

Presenters for the Abbott condo project.

2150 Abbott Condos Project – Garage Doors or No?

Next up on the Board’s Action Agenda was a two-story condo project proposed for the corner lot at Voltaire and Muir in north OB. As we have repeated, this has been somewhat of a controversial project due to the high FAR of the proposal. Last night was the 3rd time the project has appeared before the Board. (Even a Channel 8 camerawoman came to film the debate over the project but had to leave before the Board took it up.)

OB Abbott n Muir street

Corner lot at Abbott and Muir.

On September 2, 2015, the Board decided to postpone their vote on the project because it had forced the the local planners to deal with a unique challenge never addressed before. It was all about the issue of allowing “deviations” to the OB Community Plan if sufficient “green building” methods are used.  The applicant was asking for a deviation to OB’s low FAR based on a minimum amount of green sustainability features. And back then, the Board as a group had never determined what would trigger concessions to OB’s FAR.


Original design of project proposed for Abbott and Muir.

Since that hearing last September, the Board has decided that they would grant a ten per cent leeway on the FAR if sufficient Green Building Program elements were in the design. The City’s “Green Building Program” is, in brief, designed to encourage the building of affordable and sustainable housing, where if the developer meets certain standards, the developer is entitled to a certain “deviation” from City codes.

Now, developer Philip Covington’s representatives were back. And the issue of the FAR was again debated and tossed about. The basic thing is this: the 2-story, 4-unit project has parking on the bottom floor for 9 vehicles. If the garage doors are on, then that space has to be considered into the overall FAR. With the doors on, the project’s FAR is .88 – clearly over OB’s .70. But without the garage doors, the FAR is now at .690. Each of the 4 units are near 1200 square feet, making 5172 square feet of habitable space. The lot is 7500 square feet.

Board member Klein was certain that because this project is designed for OB’s “war zone”, without doors on the garage, everything in the garage would be stolen. A member of the audience who lives next door to the proposed project site, disagreed and said he lives in a complex with no garage doors, and they do fine.

Tom Gawronski raised the issue that the City Code requires 25% of the habitable space be available for parking. Ambert raised the issue that the project is in OB’s floodplain. He later praised the applicant and said “you’re paving the way for sustainable projects in OB.” Klein, meanwhile wondered outloud that by allowing a deviation to the FAR, “are we setting a precedent?”

This went back and forth, as the Board members appreciated the dilemma that the applicant was in. If he installed garage doors, the FAR was too high – even with the ten percent. If he left the doors off, there was the security issue.

Herrschaft, in the end, summed it up.

“If the FAR is .88, it doesn’t meet our exception of ten percent.”

So, once again, after a long discussion, the Board put off their vote on the project for 2150 Abbott. This allows the developer to try – once again – to come up with a design that meets the requirements of the Community Plan  – a book that John Ambert called “our constitution”.

And that dear reader, is the substance of the meeting that was.

OBPB Meet 5-4-16 steve ed

Steve Wimmers, in blue shirt, and Ed Riel, in yellow.

Seen in the audience were two former members of the Planning Board, Ed Riel, who was chair and a member of the original Board established in 1976, was on hand to assist in the celebration of the historic vote that took place 40 years ago. Also, former chair and member Steve Wimmers was present as he too had attended the meeting to help celebrate. Both were seen at a local pub after the meeting continuing with the birthday bash.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

scott May 5, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for the write up for those that wanted to be there but couldn’t.


Dave May 6, 2016 at 12:28 am

Lame. I have a lot more words, but I’ll leave it at that one. Whoever used to live there helped pick up trash along the block (a personal thing for me, since I did the same when I was a couple blocks away), I can only hope the new corporate overlords will have the same consideration for what’s left of the community.


Dude May 6, 2016 at 11:42 am

Regarding the Bacon condos, buildings in design are not LEED certified. Only conducted buildings are. While these may have the potential to be LEED certified, what guarantee would the board have that the developers would actually do so?


Dude May 6, 2016 at 11:43 am



kh May 10, 2016 at 5:06 pm

It’d be just like the guarantee made to the board that the Veer place wouldn’t have a fortress wall around it. But now one is going in.

Or the guarantee that the BBQ house would have a dog friendly patio, but now you have to bring them in through the restaurant, which the health code (and some patrons) aren’t too keen about.


Jon May 6, 2016 at 11:54 am

Thank you so much for reporting on this Frank. I wanted to make it to the meeting but was caught up with work and other appointments. We are fortunate to have your recap, and to have a (near full) planning board watching out for the community. I’ll be interested to hear what the Abbott st property decides to do regarding the garage issue. Seems they could still have parking and maybe a type of gate system without enclosing the garage. Still not a fan of the boxy design on Bacon, but glad to hear about the LEED certificate. Although it’s a bummer, the planning board seems to have done a good job compromising. They can’t really be the style police as long as the building is up to code right?


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