OB Planners – Wed., Sept. 7th: Brighton Ave. Project that Exceeds FAR and Torrey Pine Advocates

by on September 6, 2016 · 4 comments

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


Front view of 5109-11 Brighton Ave.

At Wednesday night’s Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting, the Board will take up a development permit regarding 5109-5111 Brighton Avenue – a permit that calls for a “deviation” to OB’s FAR – and will hear from community members who were involved in trying to prevent the removal of the Torrey Pine on Saratoga recently.

The planners convene at 6pm in the Community Meeting room at the OB Rec Center, 4726 Santa Monica Avenue – that’s this Wed., September 7th.

OBPB agenda 9-7-16OB Torrey protest ed goodtree distThe Saratoga Torrey Pine

As Action Item #1, the Board will hear from community members and neighbors involved in the unsuccessful efforts to save a large Torrey at 4652 Saratoga from being chopped down by the city and its contractor, Atlas Tree Service.

There were many complaints from OBceans, as the OB Rag has documented, in how the city handled the entire saga. From the city’s lack of transparency, its lack of adequate communication, to misrepresentations about Torrey pines, many neighbors involved felt there was a complete break-down in relations between city government and the community. A couple of the Planning Board members were involved in the efforts – as private citizens.

5109-11 Brighton Avenue Project

As Action Item #2 on the Board’s agenda, there is a development permit application to demolish 2 existing units at 5109 and 5111 Brighton Avenue. Then under the permit if granted by the city, the applicant would build two single dwelling units, with a total of 4,580 square feet – on a 0.12 acre lot.


Side of front house at 5109-11 Brighton Ave.


Rear house

The vast majority of OB has a building restriction known as the FAR (floor-area-ratio) of 0.70. And that FAR applies to the RM-2-4 zone, which this lot is in. Therefore, any building cannot be more than .70 of the overall lot size.

A quick calculation of the FAR within the application using numbers provided finds the applicant with a FAR of 0.876. (.12 acres = 43,560 square feet.) This is definitely a problem.

When the OB Rag first notified of this project, just about one year ago exactly, we warned then that the FAR exceeded that of OB’s. Here’s what we reported then (which should be still accurate unless the developer has changed the plans):

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. 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. 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.

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. [It has taken one year.]

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”.  … 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. … 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. …

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.  …

Sure, the cottages are just shacks, rambled-down and decrepit, in some eyes, a eyesore in the neighborhood. But, it must be asked, if the owner/developer planned on demolishing the 2 structures, why would they maintain them, why would they upkeep them, repaint them, maintain the yards, etc? The permit has been on the books for a year. In the owners’ eyes, there is no motivation to investigate their history or rehab them – when knowing full well, the value of OB sand just yards from the Pacific Ocean.

Other Items of Interest

Ebers and Greene

During the public comment period of the agenda, it’s anticipated that a group of neighbors of the controversial project at Ebers and Greene will make a pitch to the Planning Board to investigate the project including the issues that they will be raising.

Candidate for City Council District 2

A member of the Clairemont Planning committee, Daniel Schinofski, will present his credentials as a candidate for District 2 council seat.

There are, of course, other items on the Board’s agenda – please see above.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

nostalgic September 6, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Has anybody else noticed all these umbrellas popping up (especially on roofs) adding height but, of course, who would even THINK that you need a permit for an umbrella. How ridiculous. We could soon become the umbrella capitol of the world, though, for those whom being the craft beer capitol of the world isn’t enough.


Tara September 6, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Not only umbrellas sprouting from rooftops – have you heard some of the music blaring from the new beer tasting joints’ rooftops? (or perhaps it’s from inside; hard to tell)….does O B have a noise ordinance, by any chance?


Tyler September 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm

You should really use some updated pictures of the property in question.

The home in front is beyond disrepair and in no way should qualify for the historic cottage preservation. This is coming from someone who lives in one. After the occupant passed away, it was occupied by a rather strange couple of males that proceeded to treat the home like a doormat. They were evicted, and now it sits empty as a magnet for the homeless. I have to clean up around the front of the property several times a month because no one else takes care of it, and certain humans have taken a liking to defacating in the concrete corner wedge out front.

.87 FAR is quite high, but if they can knock it down to .75, I say grant them the variance.


Debbie September 6, 2016 at 9:28 pm

Why doesn’t the owner tend to housekeeping?


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