Ocean Beach Planners Okay Condos on Saratoga and Approve New Design for Mixed-Use on Voltaire

by on September 7, 2017 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach

Audience at OBPB meeting before the gavel is brought down. All photos by FG

Wednesday night, September 6th, the Ocean Beach Planning Board approved a map waiver to allow 4 condos, approved a newly-designed project for a run-down house on Voltaire, and critiqued Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s proposed City ordinance on short-term vacation rentals.

The all-volunteer board meets on the first Wednesday of the month in the OB Rec Center and makes recommendations to the City and Planning Department on development projects that come before it. It also carries out and tries to enforce the OB Community Plan – recently renewed 3 years ago after a bitter fight with the San Diego Planning Commission.

OB is divided into 7 planning districts with each district having 2 representatives on the Board – which holds democratic elections to the panel every year in March.

The Board members in attendance at the meeting: Marissa Spata of District 1; Bill Corwin and Tom Gawronski of District 2; Andrew Waltz of District 3; Craig Klein and Blake Herrschaft of D4; Jane Gawronski and Neuman Stotz District 5; Dan Dennison and John Ambert of D6; and Richard Aguirre of District 7.

2 residential units were demolished.

4950-56 Saratoga Avenue

The first action item before the panel was an application for a map waiver, a per-requisite  to turn units into condominiums at 4950-56 Saratoga Avenue. Developer Robert Bateman reminded the Board that it approved the original project on January 7, 2015 by a vote of 10 to 1, and now he was back asking for a map waiver in order to turn the 4 residential units covering 2 lots into condos. Construction had started about a year ago, Bateman said.

When Chair John Ambert asked him why the owner didn’t apply for a map waiver back when the project was first before the Board, Bateman responded that condominiums have a negative connotation and they didn’t want to throw any possible roadblocks on the road to approval of the project. Bateman also said that when the project was approved in 2015, it was done so with a note that a map waiver would be sought in the future.

The 4 new units have replaced two residences, one a small house and a back 1-bedroom unit. Here’s our we described the property back in 2014-15 when we covered this project:

The project up for consideration … is an application for a Coastal Development Permit at 4950 and 4956 Saratoga Avenue. The application is to demolish 2 existing residences and build 4 dwelling units – on a 2 lot plot of 0.16 acres.

From Zillow we learn that the the lot has a 2 bedroom, 1 bath front house with a cottage in the back, for a total of 3 bedrooms, 2 baths in the 1380 square foot living space.

The 2 units are on a 7,000 square foot lot, and were built in 1955, sold on June 24, 2014 for $875,000. Zillow has said it was last remodeled in 1975, and besides declaring this “a great development opportunity”, says the front house has ample storage and “bonus room”, and that the cottage in the back has alley access.

From Redfin we learn that the front home has been completely upgraded in 2013: new kitchen, updated bath, new windows, freshly painted interior and exterior, “with a large sunroom that functions as family room and extra bedroom, plus a private yard. The back unit has a new roof, freshly painted, private yard and parking.”

Okay, there’s conflicting reports on the status of the units demolished. Was the front house remodeled in 1975 or 2013? Doesn’t matter now, it’s gone. But the point is was a habitable residence torn down to make way for condos? Looks like the answer is yes.

Last night, the Board ended up approving the map waiver which will allow the property to be condo-ized.

The big issue for the Board on this project was whether the condos would or could be turned into short-term vacation rentals. Their discussion centered on putting STVR restrictions into the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions & restrictions) of the condos and let the property association enforce it. With weak assurances from Bateman, the Board voted 11 to 0 to recommend approval, with a recommendation CC&Rs by the condo association prohibit less than 30-day rentals.

This project is a good example of older rent-able units being demolished in OB to pave the way for condos. And there’s a big debate still going on (particularly on the OB Rag) about the value of condos and whether they actually help in raising home-ownership.

4921 Voltaire Street Commercial and Residential Project

Here’s the former design:

Most of the Board was so relieved and enthusiastic about the new design of a commercial and residential building to replace the current eye-sore at 4921 Voltaire Street, that a majority easily approved it.

It’s an application to demolish the current structure and construct a mixed-use building, with 800 sf of commercial downstairs, with 2 residential units upstairs. Each of the residences will be 2000 sf. There’s also planned 2 parking lifts for the residents, as well as parking for the commercial space.

When the owner – developer first appeared before the Board in July, he was admonished to check out the OB Community Plan and to “give a nod to history” using the old craftsman house, dilapidated as it was, as part of the new design.

Here’s the current design:

See the difference?

As noted, several members of the Board approved the new design enthusiastically and described it in glowing terms for bringing in elements of the old craftsman house. The developer plans, in fact, to utilize the original porch and front columns in the new building.

Not all were happy with the new shape of things, however. Chair John Ambert said the new design, “doesn’t go far enough,” and “doesn’t preserve the character of the craftsman.” With him the lone hold-out, the Board voted 10 to 1 to approve.

Short Termer Policy Proposed by Barbara Bry

Last action item on the agenda was a discussion of Councilwoman Bry’s proposals for short-term vacation rentals. Blake and John had brought a bunch of their own recommended improvements – and along with other suggestions from the Board and members of the audience, the Board voted to put them all together in a letter to Bry, Lorie Zapf – who likes Bry’s proposal -, the other councilmembers, and other planning groups.

(We anticipate publishing the letter once it’s sent.)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie September 7, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Just a few design changes on the Voltaire project make it look not so boring and cookie cutter :-)


gregg sullivan September 7, 2017 at 6:30 pm

That looks absolutely terrible! This is zoned commercial not residential. It should have lots of glass on the bottom floor so people see in and go hey what’s going on there lets go see. This is not conducive for a retail business only office which doesn’t lend itself to a more pedestrian friendly walkable street.

And get rid of those fake gables they’re just a tokenism a slight gesture to the former building and to appease those who think they know better.


triggerfinger September 7, 2017 at 7:58 pm

I agree with gregg. This is a mixed use commercial/residential but doesn’t resemble it.

Trying to put a front porch on a commercial property makes little sense and seems like it will deter some tenants.


Frank Gormlie September 7, 2017 at 9:24 pm

Correction: second story residences on top, each 1260 square feet, with a 2000 square foot roof deck.


South OB Girl September 8, 2017 at 5:38 am

Residential going upstairs… So what’s going downstairs commercially with no windows and what looks like a regular front door? Example… Hungry Lu’s– big double doors and big windows…


South OB Girl September 8, 2017 at 5:39 am

Correction… 2 small windows and a regular front door…


Frank Gormlie September 8, 2017 at 9:35 am

And Hungry Lu’s still doesn’t sell its good coffee.


Debbie September 8, 2017 at 6:46 am

Maybe it’s going to be an office or beauty salon or boutique that does not need big windows.

As for pedestrian friendly….ever walk past all the smokers at Lucy’s with their potty mouths? Now that is not friendly.


South OB Girl September 9, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Yes, those are possibilities.  Most hair salons and nail salons I’ve ever been to have large windows (single doors at some).  Newport, Voltaire, Point Loma Ave, Rosecrans, La Jolla Blvd.  And large windows in beauty shops in multiple cities and not just here in SD.  Smedley & Associates has large windows (law office at Cable and Santa Monica).  Mixte has large windows.  The Green Store has large windows.  Every boutique (which is a lot!!!) I’ve ever been to has large windows too.  The Closet, Dream Girls, Wahinis, Temptress.  Not intending to sound super critical of the architect’s design.  It just seemed more residential than commercial to me.  The windows struck me as small for residential as well.  When most beach area homes want to maximize natural light and hopefully get a good breeze when the weather is hot.  Maybe the current drawing shown at the planning board is not the final plan for the windows and a different decision might be made by the property owner and contractor.  Because the windows are boarded up in the photo here http://obrag.org/?p=151951 I can’t tell what the original windows looked like.  But from what I can see they look like they may have been an excellent example of craftsman style windows and could have been incorporated quite nicely into the new design.  


South OB Girl September 9, 2017 at 1:41 pm
South OB Girl September 9, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Photo without boards: https://www.carringtonconnects.com/homes-for-sale/4921-voltaire-st_san-diego_ca_92107_6972652
Gorgeous, gorgeous craftsman windows.

(And editor dude if you want to delete that last comment feel free to! He knows I don’t like misspellings/typos)


Frank Gormlie September 9, 2017 at 4:15 pm

The owners of 4921 Voltaire may be willing to give away the structure for free – just come and get it! – at the proper time of course.


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