Rocky Road for Projects Before Ocean Beach Planners’ Review Panel

by on July 21, 2017 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

Proposed mixed-use building for 4921 Voltaire.

It was a rocky road for development projects that came before the Project Review Committee last Wednesday night. The panel – a sub-committee of the OB Planning Board – was to review four projects, but no one showed to present two of them, a third was handed back to the developer owner with significant design suggestions, and the fourth was so complex it was punted to the full board to deal with.

No one showed up during the meeting at the OB Rec Center representing either the 5018 Narragansett project or the controversial Abbott- Muir condos (although one person did for this project did show after the meeting had been adjourned). This means these projects will probably be kicked to the bottom of the pile – a long list of development projects making their way to the OB Planning Board’s agenda.

Several Board members advised the developers to “give a nod” to the history of the old craftsman house.

4921 Voltaire Street Mixed-Use

The owner and his planner for the project at 4921 Voltaire were present, both creating images of the planned mixed-use building, with one commercial unit downstairs and 2 residential units, each with 2 bedrooms – upstairs. Currently, there is a vacant, dilapidated single-family house on the lot, which would be completely demolished according to the proposed plan.

There’s been lots of problems at the old house, the planner explained, with homeless and drug use on the property; it’s now sealed off. The owner took the house to the San Diego Historic Board in October 2016, which determined it was of “no significance”.

The commercial space would be “pretty generic” the board was told, and it would have to be up to any tenants to deal with signage and other aspects of a commercial storefront. “We’d like to see something like a coffee-shop,” the owner said, quickly adding, “no, not a brewery.”

“Parking is tight,” the planner said. There’s room for 7 spaces, with 2 stalls being stacked for the residents, leaving 3 for commercial.

During questioning by the Board, Jane Gawronski stated she believed the original house was one of the very first Sears and Roebuck craftsman houses in OB. “Why not save just the facade?,” she asked the developer.

The quick answer was that the project was required to have a 15 foot setback and they didn’t  have space to use the existing building.

Craig Klein questioned “the longevity of anything mechanical” referring to the lift machinery being proposed for parking and how it would survive the at-times brutal salt air of OB. In response, the owner himself spoke up and stated he will lease the units and continue the responsibility for their maintenance.

The owner then launched into a little speech about stacking. “I’m a big proponent of stacking” and how he’s “commonly used stackers” in his units in San Francisco – where parking is a huge problem.

Tom Gawronski pressed the developer on the history of the building and criticized them for allowing it to become so dilapidated. “I don’t agree with the Historical Board about the historical significance of the building.”

He added: “I don’t want to reward behavior that led to the deterioration of the building,” and told the developer, “I walked through it,” after the planner stated it was “uninhabitable.”

Dan Dennison explained the Board’s concerns about the residential units being possibly turned into short-term vacation rentals. “We’ve heard denials before,” he said, wherein the owner talked about finding wonderful OB years ago and he and his spouse plan to retire here, implying they’re part of the community and share its concerns.

Chair John Ambert also took up the historical angle, and said, “Taking down the historical facade … and not using the facade is not complementary to the community.”  He advised the owner and planner to review the Ocean Beach Community Plan and see how their proposal fits with the plan. “Give a nod to the existing building,” he said.

Ambert finally urged them “to preserve the Craftsman components at the street.”

Klein made a motion to recommend approval of the project to the full Board if the facade is included. It passed 6-1-1. The project may be before the Board at its August meeting but more likely at its September meeting.

Inn at Sunset Cliffs. Houltons’ house circled in red with arrow. From website Inn at SSC

Inn at Sunset Cliffs

This project involving the Inn at Sunset Cliffs, near the intersection with Point Loma Ave, was such a ball of wax for Board members that they ended up not making a recommendation but pushing the issue to the full Board when it meets on the project. It was a permit for “an after-the-fact” replacement of the Inn’s deck and other amenities proposed and before the review panel because it was on “environmentally sensitive lands” – the cliffs themselves at Sunset Cliffs.

The Planner for the Inn did explain the City issued 3 notices of violations: 1) the unpermitted deck; 2) the use of the facility for weddings; and 3) parking issues and problems. He stated that 2 of the violations regarding the 1953-built hotel have been cleared up; the parking issues have been resolved, he said, with the city; the Inn now has the classification for use for weddings.

The Inn owner has “worked for 7 years to get the deck permitted,” he said. But in 2015, “big storms came and damaged the deck,” necessitating the owner to “work with the city via an emergency site plan to replace the deck.” He explained that the fence was rebuilt and a new railing installed on the deck. They put in a drain and pump so sea water can collect and flow “back to sea.”

Some of the weddings are huge, catered affairs. The Coastal Act ensures that the public has access to all the coastline.

There was some discussion about the project’s EIR but was difficult to follow for this reporter at least.

Finally, several speakers spoke against the project. Barbara and Tim Houlton and a landuse attorney addressed different aspects of the deck, its history and their complaints.

However, the main thing, the Houltons explained as they lived just across the street from the Inn, was that the project has deeply involved in litigation since 2002. The case is Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF) vs. the Inn at Sunset Cliffs (the Houltons are not involved in the litigation).

The attorney addressed the Board, listing a litany of complaints about the deck; it was “jerry-rigged” and “shouldn’t be there,” and “sticks out” along the cliffs – and he stated, there’s pending litigation involving the Coastal Act.

“The deck could be declared illegal,” he said, “and could be torn down.”

Klein, the lawyer on the Board, then interjected: “It could be silly for us to okay something on how it might look but subject to litigation.”

He asked about the status of the law suit. “It’s been put off, stayed,” the landuse attorney responded, “due to efforts to get it permitted.”

Barbara Houlton then also addressed the Board, saying since the beginning of the litigation 15 years ago, there’s been changes in the property ownership. But she claimed, the current owner is “unwilling to negotiate with us [neighbors],” and asserted that the only response has been an offer to buy their cliffside house.

Barbara raised the problems with the wedding guests and catering trucks parking everywhere on weekends at the he Inn. She had letters from neighbors, she said, and asked where the geo-technical report on the project was – nobody knew about it -, and waved letters from the Coastal Commission critical of the deck plans.

After more back and forth about decks and seawall backfill, there was finally a motion to send the project to the full Board without a recommendation. It passed easily, 6 to 0.

With no reps from the other projects, Ambert, sitting in for Blake Herrscraft, adjourned the meeting.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist July 22, 2017 at 2:22 am

What a shame x 2!
I disagree w/ Historic Board… 4921 Voltaire has ‘no significance’ to them, but the significance of losing yet another classic, single family home of the perfect style and size for a conscientious coastal community, nevermind that its also attractive, craftsman style architecture that blends in well with the other bungalows and detached dwellings in OB, is relevant and discouraging. Commercial space, stacked parking!, and 3 different inhabitants on 1 lot? Problems with homeless/drug use, uninhabitable? C’mon, getting tired of these developer excuses- of course people and wildlife are going to hang around an unoccupied dwelling. OBPB- stick to your guns! Check the Community Plan, don’t settle for a facade! The proposed concept does nothing to maintain and preserve the character of the neighborhood. Coffee shop? Until the next vendor gets an alcohol license-why is it always food and drink- how about a bookstore? How about restoring it as a single family home? This area of OB needs advocacy!
The deck on the cliffs: The parking issue/wedding venue is solved? Doesn’t sound like it. And then there’s the already built deck…I don’t know what was there before, but this ball of wax has lumps of encroachment for sure…check that Community Plan again!


OB Dude July 22, 2017 at 9:36 am

I believe 4921 Voltaire was left to decay beyond repair by the prior owner and then his trust..who also owns 4420 Voltaire which is rumored not be be in great condition either


South OB Girl July 23, 2017 at 11:29 am

That craftsman is adorable!!! With some paint, new windows, and drought tolerant landscaping it would be gorgeous. Such a shame.


OB Dude July 23, 2017 at 11:55 am

It appears adorable…. but it was marked as in habitable by the city before it was sold. If people wanted to preserve it or renovated it or thought is could be their home sweet home why didn’t they buy it?


OB Dude July 23, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Mistake…meant to write uninhabitable mls 150063919

“Small structure on commercial zoned lot. Structure is not livable and has no kitchen, bathroom, electrical, water or heating. Structure is basically a shell on the lot. Many businesses within steps of this property. Diagonal parking on both sides of the street. Buyer to verify all prior to close of escrow”


South OB Girl July 23, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Interesting… Well they can build a kitchen and install electrical, plumbing, and heating– which they will have to do with whatever the property owner aspires to build there. “Not livable”may be a biased description to benefit a realtor. I have seen many derelict houses refurbished and made livable.


Annoyed On Muir August 13, 2017 at 6:55 pm

The house at 4921 Voltaire St is still a nightmare. The transients have completely moved in. They are letting themselves in the backyard through the gate (from the alley) and the house is NOT sealed off. They are climbing under the board on the door so they can hangout in the house and do their drugs in peace. This property is out of control and nobody is doing anything about it. I would rather it be used for commercial use than what it is being used for now.


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