“What to Do With the Sorry Project at Ebers and Greene Streets in Ocean Beach?”

by on June 5, 2017 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach

Editor: Coincidentally, the same day as we post Geoff Page’s piece on the project at the corner of Ebers and Greene Streets, we have a report from neighbors that scaffolding is being dismantled this very day.

By Geoff Page

The OB Rag asked for my opinion as to what I would do with the sorry project at Ebers and Greene Streets if I could call all the shots.

Keep in mind that this is just one person’s opinion but I do have some appropriate experience to apply from having worked in the construction business my whole career.  And, I’ve worked most of that career, 40 years worth, here in San Diego.  That said, for those who are not completely familiar with the project, I’ll give a little background.

Background on the Project

The property is on the southeast corner of Ebers and Greene.  There is an unfinished, partially framed building there now and it has not been worked on for some time.  There is an existing, older house there that has not been altered on the outside and is hooked to the unfinished building with what looks like a hallway.

This lot is in the RM-1-1 zone.  In this zone, a lot may have one dwelling unit per 3,000 square feet of lot area.  (§131.0406 Purpose of the RM (Residential–Multiple Unit) Zones(b) (1) bullet one).  This is where the problem starts, the lot at Ebers and Greene is only 5,000 square feet.  What’s a developer to do?

What this developer did was not much different than many have done and are doing but he did it very badly.  In order to get two units on the lot despite the municipal code, he decided to build an “addition” on to the existing old house that dwarfs the old structure; the addition is about twice the size of the house it is attached to.

The developer then advertised his property – before it was constructed – as a two unit property.  His plan was to simply close off the connection between the two structures and have his two units anyway.

The community descended on him, lots of violations were found, and the city halted the work.  The developer was actually doing the construction on a general building contracting license.  Some months ago, it was discovered that his license was suspended for failure to pay an arbitration judgment against him.  So the project now sits in limbo.

The problem is that what the developer tried to do is being done all the time but more intelligently.  The allowed floor area ratio, or FAR for short, in this zone is .75 of the lot area.  This means someone could build a 3,750 square foot house on the lot.  The house can be built and later divided inside to make two units and it is not very noticeable from the outside.  The Ebers and Greene Street developer ham-handedly tried to cobble these two structures together and call them a home and because of that, he got a lot of attention.  So that’s the story.

Would I Would Do

What would I do if I could make the decisions?

I would have two main considerations, the housing shortage we face in San Diego and the rights of the property owner.

I think that a landowner faced with the conundrum of having a lot zoned for two units that is too small for two units should be allowed to build one large structure subdivided into two.  The intent of the zone is to have two dwelling units but two actual buildings on such a small lot would not make sense, which is why the allowable area was set at 3,000 square feet.

One well done building internally structured into two would look better and be more economical to build.  The resulting units could be used as rentals, or one side could be lived in by an owner and the other side rented like a duplex would be.  Or, the lot could be converted into a two-unit condominium.

I am not really in favor of the condominium option because the cost of buying something in OB is so high that the people who need housing might be left out, but to be fair to the landowners, it needs to be considered.  By allowing one building divided this way, the intent of the zone is realized and additional housing comes on the market as well.

If I could make the decisions, I would redesign the project by removing the old home.  I hate taking down old homes but I don’t think there is anything special about the one that is there now.  A nicer looking building could then be designed along the lines of what I’ve described already.

The design would have to comply with requirements for height, FAR, and parking.  The hard part usually is accommodating parking.  If the building is built to the maximum allowable FAR of 3,750 square feet, that would leave 1,250 in available square footage. A single parking space is eight feet by eighteen feet or 144 square feet.

The downside to this idea is that it could result in a three-story building, but that is allowable as long as it doesn’t exceed 30 feet in height.  This is disturbing to neighbors who live in one or two-story homes but on lots that are big enough to have two units and already have two units.  The situation with a lot like this is not uncommon or common and not everyone who has one would be able to afford to or would want to build it out this way.

Something needs to be done because the current climate is one of subterfuge and winks and nods and avoidance of the intent of the law.  The developers get tricky and the city is complicit in this trickery by looking the other way.  It was blatantly apparent what this developer was doing yet it took a community uproar and efforts by many people to halt this monstrosity.  Why not do things above board instead?

The last consideration is the vacation rental problem.  Frankly, this problem is due to the city’s lack of law enforcement.  The Municipal Code does not allow vacation rentals in residential areas, period.  If the owner was allowed to build what I’m suggesting, it should be made clear that the new units cannot be used as vacation rentals.

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

kh June 7, 2017 at 7:41 am

But they already spent a lot of money remodeling the original house. I think it’d make more sense to turn the new structure into a garage with companion unit on the 2nd floor and move on.

Geoff, what are your thoughts on code section 113.0222(a) with regard to this project?

Reply

john June 7, 2017 at 9:49 am

Demolition of the existing house would lead to a Process 3 Coastal Permit… adding 10 months of review, $40K to the project.

Reply

Geoff Page Geoff Page June 7, 2017 at 5:33 pm

John, I do not care that it would add time and money to the project. I’ve heard this argument before and I have no patience for it. Had it gone through such a review in the first place, none of this would have happened. The developer tried to circumvent the review process and this is where he ended up. Just because process takes more time and costs more is not a reason not to do it, these procedures were put in place for a reason, the public wanted this scrutiny in their coastal area. The processes and procedures that are in place are there for reasons, they aren’t just dreamed up to make life more difficult for developers. although that is what many will say.

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john June 9, 2017 at 10:23 am

Jeff,
I was only relaying the reasoning why the house was not demolished. I am in no way defending or approving of the project.

Reply

Geoff Page Geoff Page June 9, 2017 at 11:49 am

John, I didn’t form an impression as to whether you were defending the project or not. Your statement was correct and I did not mean to appear that I was arguing with you personally, I was reacting to the point you made because you articulated what I’ve heard many times from developers.

Just to ensure that folks who are not familiar with the processes understand your point, I’ll add a little. In the coastal zone, if you demolish a home to build a new one, you need a Coastal Development Permit and to get that, one step is going before the local planning Board, OB in this case. The planning board is where the review process starts. If the developer had demolished the old home and left up 50 percent of the existing walls and built them into a new 3,750 square foot home, a coastal permit would have been unnecessary. That’s called “the 50% rule.”

Reply

Geoff Page Geoff Page June 7, 2017 at 5:09 pm

kh,

The owner did not spend a lot of money remodeling the existing home. Here is what I wrote in my October 31, 2016 piece about that part:

“The remodel of the existing house consists of a few interior wall changes expanding one bathroom, adding a tub and vanity to a second bathroom, and most disturbingly, a wall across what was a sitting room to create an “office,” which will be a bedroom for sure. The existing house will have two bedrooms and two full baths and an office.”

Your suggestion about what to do with the place is interesting but it looks awful the way it is and I think the neighborhood deserves something more holistic. The owner tried to pull a fast one so I have little sympathy for him by allowing the cobbled together thing to stay. The city told me they were going to have the guy sign an “amended” companion unit agreement but I did not see how they could since he had not applied to build one. Additionally, a companion unit requires the owner live in one or the other of the units. If they went my way, they would not have that restriction.

Reply

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