Ocean Beach Planners Approve ‘Out-of-Character’ Three Story Houses for Bermuda

by on February 8, 2018 · 16 comments

in Ocean Beach

The design of the 3 story houses. Unchanged since first presented. Image diminishes the 3rd story, set back in the drawing enough to tease the viewer into thinking these are really only 2 stories.

In a stunning vote, the Ocean Beach Planning Board voted Wednesday night, Feb. 7th, to approve two 3-story houses for the 4700 block of Bermuda – houses out-of-character with the immediate neighborhood.

By a vote of 7 to 1, the Board voted to recommend the project at 4719 Bermuda move forward, giving its stamp of approval, despite the lack of any landscaping plan and despite many concerns raised about the buildings’ potential for use as short term rentals and how they’ll be the largest structures on the block. Vice-chair Blake Herrschaft was the sole vote against the project.

Before the vote, at least 6 Board members spoke critically of the project, which involves the demolition of a deteriorated single family residence, and the construction of two, 3-story large houses – that will once built will stand out uncharacteristically of the rest of the neighborhood. Each will have four-bedrooms and 3.5 baths. The two houses will be the only 3-story buildings on either side of that block, for instance (although there are some 3 story apartments on the other side of the alley).

Once discussion over, most of those critical of it then voted for it.

Presentation by architect.

When the project appeared before the Project Review Committee in mid-August 2017, it was met with an organized opposition from the community and many complaints from Board members that it didn’t follow or comply with the OB Community Plan. Board members believed the builder – in his own words –  was there to maximize profits as well as the space of the two narrow lots.

Drawings of houses from alley and other views. Garages are represented as open only for viewing, will be closed up once built.

Some would call the drawings the builders and architect presented to be of a trendy modern design — a style popular for vacation rentals and in the changing neighborhoods along the coast. After all the criticism, the design could have been changed.

But when on Wednesday night, the architect appeared with the drawings – they were clearly the exact ones presented in August. Nothing had changed. Here are some of the comments from Board members last night:

  • the design shows the difference between creating a design to live in (not this one) or a design with a plan to sell – and maximizing the space;
  • it’s a style of short term vacation rentals;
  • needs to have a deed restriction disallowing the property from being used as short term vacation rentals (shorter than 30 days);
  • it’s a standard 2 townhouses on 1 lot;
  • “we’re not the style police!”
  • it is maxed out; go to Newport Beach to see what OB will look like with houses built by people who don’t live in them;
  • it’s out of the cottage area of OB;
  • a nice, historic cottage just sat there for 5 years and allowed to deteriorate;

During a question and answer period, the new owners – a father and son team – stated that they’re considering living in one of the houses themselves. “I could sell the other for $1.6 million,” the son said. Not only are the houses 3 stores, they’ll include basements, only accessible from inside. The owners also confirmed “all the trees on the property have to come down.”

There was some discussion of when the current building would be demolished, and estimates ranged from 2 months, to 3 to 6. Chair John Ambert observed that the designs include long, straight walls with no windows on the houses’ sides. “The project is compliant,” he said, “but it doesn’t treat the neighbors well.” He added, “It lacks a harmonious relationship with neighbors.”

Two neighbors of the project did appear – and they seemed mostly concerned with the removal of trees close to their house – they wanted them removed “too many rats,” and admitted that after all these years of being next to the deteriorated building, they’re “desperate for anything; “the lot has been a mess for years.”

Yet, it was expressed that once built, each at 3700 square feet, they’ll be “the largest structures on the block – and there’s two of them.”

Blake Herrschaft worried that the 3-stories when built and sold will be turned into short term vacation rentals. He stated there’s “eight Airbnb’s on this block right now.”

There was more Board discussion:

  • It’s not “harmonious to neighborhood”;
  • needs a deed restriction;
  • sets a precedent;
  • people have a choice in how neighborhood goes; without deed restrictions, neighborhood becomes a land of “mini-hotels”; developers need to  begin to add anti-STVR deed restrictions; this can add to the sale value because buyers will know neighborhood won’t turn into mini-hotels;
  • project is compliant but “maxed-out”.
  • need to see landscaping plan;
  • our elected representatives are not addressing issues; elected reps don’t stay for the detailed discussions like this.

A motion was made to approve the project but with language that the owner needed to submit a landscaping plan, and with some loose language recommending that a deed restriction be included.

Then one by one, each of the Board members who had voiced complaints and criticisms of the project, then voted for it. Except one – Herrschaft. After the vote, Herrschaft was pressed for the reasons for his opposition (non-compliance with Building Element of Community Plan), yet no one who voted for it were pressed for their reasons.

Those voting for it were Richard Aguirre, John Ambert, Dan Dennison, Craig Klein, Andrea Schlageter, Bill Corwin, and Andrew Waltz.

Now, it’s very difficult to place blame or criticism on community volunteers – like these Board members – who give freely of their time and energy and take on the challenging aspects of being a community planner. They take on the heady stuff of urban planning and community rules, stuff all ignored by their fellow OBceans – until it’s time for them to be affected by some development – and they face a thankless job; there’s nobody around who stands up and shakes their hand during the time of their service or at the end. Their reward is the experience itself and the knowledge that they were part of it.

So how can you get down on somebody like that?

Clearly Ambert takes a lot on his shoulders – but perhaps doesn’t delegate enough – and that can lead to burn-out (Ambert declared he is stepping down from the Board next month – which this reporter will regret).

But still these particular volunteers were voted in by their neighbors (unlike the OB Town Council board for example) and they represent them and their planning districts. Or most of them were – some were appointed to their seats to fill vacancies not timed with annual elections. And because they do represent people and are part of a quasi-government body, they have a responsibility to follow and enforce the Ocean Beach Community Plan.

But last night, in this reporter’s opinion, they didn’t do that.

Editor: More on the OB Planning Board Friday, Feb. 9th.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

OnionDipper February 9, 2018 at 7:48 am

Interesting article to read. Of course new developments will not fit a neighborhoods character by definition. Character is a quality attained over time as the detritus of living is what creates character. The way character goes is , trees grow, balconies are supported, driveways are redirected. Of course, if homeowners never get to live in the space then character will not happen. This is a problem beyond the scope of housing development and perhaps more to do with the way that roads are built.


Don February 9, 2018 at 8:37 am

Look at the megaplexes up at the 4300 block of Newport and then down Santa Barbara toward PL Ave.
OB/PL will likely all be like this in the next ten/fifteen years or so.
You have a 7000 sf lot??? Build a 6500sf megaplex with roof top deck (get some deep breaths of that airplane soot)!!!


Chris February 9, 2018 at 9:23 am

Good – OB is highly desirable and those who really think that it is going to return to inexpensive houses and the Summer of 69 are out of their minds. The solution is more town homes and apartments. Gentrification will fix many of the problems our community faces.


Don February 9, 2018 at 1:25 pm

gentrification also reverses on itself.
less people… now that’s the answer!
practice ZPG.


Geoff Page February 9, 2018 at 11:21 am

Then, go live in Manhattan Beach and see how you like that.


Robert Burns February 9, 2018 at 12:25 pm

Great response!


Chris February 11, 2018 at 7:24 am

Or Huntington Beach. Talk about a place that’s become a concrete Hell.


JJ February 9, 2018 at 11:51 am

Roof top decks are a waste. Looking around OB, they are all consistently unoccupied on even the best days or during the best sunsets. From my experience, they are only useful only as quick ‘living the dream’ bragging exhibition for when visitors come to town. A real shame that anyone thinks they’re necessary, considering they forever blot out views from actual lower level living spaces nearby.


Don February 9, 2018 at 2:20 pm

I’d submit that the decks are not occupied due to the incredible amount of plane noise (and fuel soot/residue) which seems to have increased since 2014/2015.


Craig Klein February 9, 2018 at 11:54 am

The structures in question comply with the zoning , FAR (floor area ratio) and parking requirements. The OB Planning Board cannot serve as the “style police”. Just on the uphill side of Ebers Street and across the street from the proposed structures is a multi story, “modernist” style house. Consider this: Is a “neighborhood” confined to a single block, block by block, or does it include the next or adjacent block? These are all things the Planning Board must consider. As far as the vacation rental issue, the Planning Board cannot make its decisions based on speculation as to the ultimate use of the proposed project. Additionally, this decision was complicated because the neighbors appeared to be in agreement that the existing condition of the lot and structures was substandard and at detriment to the neighborhood.


Geoff Page February 12, 2018 at 11:02 am

Craig’s comment is well taken, sometimes these decisions are very difficult for the planning board members who may not care for a project but do not have great grounds for denying it.

I did want to comment on the neighbors. There was just one couple and they were clearly fed up with a property that had been in disrepair for a long time. The woman basically said she would be in favor of anything new that replaced what was there. But, this is hardly the way to make a decision that will be there for many years. A four bedroom, 3.5 bath house at this location is a house that is built for use as an STVR. There will be no yard for children or animals so it is unlikely a family would like this type of home. And who wold need all those bedrooms and bathrooms if they had no children? Several of the board members encouraged a deed restriction to keep them from being STVR’s with the reasoning that the properties would sell better if the buyers knew the one next door would not be an STVR. The project owners did not indicate any interest in doing this.

Finally, my own personal opinion, the design looked awful but I don’t care for modern architecture. This is not what I imagine when I think of a beach community.


Robert Burns February 9, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Community character and illegal STVRs, not landscaping, are key here. Four bedrooms and 3.5 baths per unit clearly would maximize profits only in the eyes of a Congressman and, thus, serves as evidence that illegal STVRs or dissentary is intended. Lastly, I am in New Orleans now with my architect brother; we toured one of the renovating historical homes (one of Ann Price’s former homes) which has faced highly subjective character determinations just like the OBPB seems unable to make though the OB LUP requires it.


Eric February 9, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Yuck. I’ll take a Craftsman Beach Bungalow anyday.


Don February 9, 2018 at 2:05 pm

yep, and more trees!


marc johnson February 9, 2018 at 2:19 pm

And just think. Fifteen years ago on the 4600 block of Voltaire I could not get a approved plans for a second story on my little cottage of,only 800 square feet. A lot of loopholes.


Sam February 13, 2018 at 11:27 am

Very sharp looking buildings, so glad to see OB finally progressing and moving full speed ahead!
Hopefully much more modernizationsto come in downtown with Steve Yeng and other investors!


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