A Panoply of Puzzling Projects to Ponder in Ocean Beach

by on November 28, 2018 · 11 comments

in Ocean Beach

There are three projects – already built except for one – around Ocean Beach that have locals puzzled about how they were ever allowed to be built.

One is on the 4600 block of Orchard Avenue, another on the 4700 block of Pescadero and the third down on the 4900 block of Saratoga.

Front yard needs some work. All photos by Frank Gormlie unless otherwise noted.

4651-53 Orchard

This project included permits for remodel and additions to 2 existing single dwelling units on two different lots. While it was going up, it created some consternation among neighbors as they couldn’t understand why the project didn’t go before the OB Planning Board. It ended up being classified as a “remodel” with only a ministerial permit needed – and therefore, no public review. One of the concerns people had was that the units would be turned into short-term rentals.

From the front one can see the property is up for sale and there is still some work to be done but much has been completed.

Looking east up the alley.

From the alley, the building towers above the passerby.

The OB Rag included the development as one of 3 projects in a July 2017 post that exemplified “gentrification in action” in OB. We reported then:

A lot is going on at 4651 and 4653 Orchard. The permit was pulled by Expedited Permits of San Diego, for the property owner, Farrow Trust 11-24-15. There’s been a scope change to this project. Now, it states that the project includes permits for remodel and additions to 2 existing single dwelling units on two different lots.

Work on 4651 includes a partial demolition with a complete remodel and an addition of a new second floor and detached guest quarter.  And work on 4653 includes a partial demolition also with a complete remodel and detached guest quarters. Retaining walls of 5 feet by 3 feet are included.

During construction phase.

This is a puzzling project. 2 separate lots; 2 single family units each get a partial demolition and a complete remodel. 4651 gets a second floor and a “detached guest quarter”, while 4653 also gets a partial demo and complete rehab plus “detached guest quarters”.

Some of the concerns and questions locals had about the project were answered.

Here is the official description: SCOPE CHANGE 12/16/16 – OCEAN BEACH. Combo building permits for remodel and addtions to 2 existing SDU on 2 different lot. Work in 4651 includes partial demo with complete remodel and addition of new 2nd flr. and detached guest quarter. Work in 4653 includes partial demo with complete remodel and detached guest quarters. New site retaining walls 5′-0″ & 3′-0″. RM-1-1. Geo Haz 52. N-APP-2. OB Cottage District.

This, in the end, is such a huge project to come through solely as a ministerial permit that neighbors had a right to question it. And, again, it never appeared before the OB Planning Board. The process from which projects do come up for review is solely city-driven. Rarely does the Board initiate a review of a project on its own initiative, although there are exceptions such as the project at Ebers and Greene. Why?


4925 Saratoga

The second development in our panoply of puzzling projects is at 4925 Saratoga Avenue.

View from east side.

A three story building in the backyard of the lot is nearing its structural completion. Neighbors and the OB Rag have had eyes on this project, as it was initially denied by the Ocean Beach Planning Board on May 3, 2017. But the owner appealed and received the okay from the city to move ahead.

From the alley.

Here’s our post from September 11, 2018 (edited for brevity):

Applicant-Owner Todd Schak applied for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to build a two-story house … on top of a 4-car garage. There’s already a rehabbed Craftsman 2-bedroom in the front which is 800 square feet.

When his architect representative, Scott Frontis of Frontis Studio went before the OB Planners last year to obtain a recommendation of approval, neighbors showed up with proof that the front house was being used as a short-term vacation rental. … The Planning Board voted 11 to 0 to deny approval. (Here’s the Minutes from that meeting, 5/3/17.)

[T]he vote by the Ocean Beach Planning Board is only an advisory one – and developers can appeal their decision to the City Planning Commission. This is what could have occurred with Schak’s project. A neighbor spoke to a Senior Building Inspector at the City’s Code Enforcement and was told the owner had a CDP to proceed with his construction. … The new 3-story will be close to surrounding neighbors blocking bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen windows.

Neighbors still fear – as they did last year – that Schak will claim he or a relative will be living in the front house (or is it the back house this time?) and enable him to rent out the other as a vacation rental. … At least two trees have been chopped down for the rehab and the new construction.

[At]… the OB planners, neighbors did show up with printed-out pages of VRBO with pictures of one of the front house bedrooms displaying bunk beds for 10 people. One of the neighbors read from the owner’s VRBO description:

Bunk beds from STVR ad for front house.

“I have other properties in Mission Beach and La Jolla so (I) have been a vacation owner for a number of years. All my homes are very successful rentals and I understand the needs of clients.”

The developer was “caught red-handed” as San Diego Reader writer Tony de Garate described the meeting, with a sub-head of “Mother-in-front-house turns out to be vacation rental”.

The fact that this project was allowed to proceed simply puzzles, confounds and stuns some neighbors. Others are boiling mad and see this authorized development of a 3-story house – where there are no other 3-stories around in the neighborhood – as a reason not to have faith in planning committees. Yet, the Planning Board did deny the project but the owner had the finances to appeal their decision with hired guns. The Planning Board is made up of volunteers – many of whom work during the day – and has scant resources to challenge every appeal made.

Photo: Google Maps

4783 Pescadero

Our third project stands alone by itself in south Ocean Beach, 3 stories tall, stark, windowless, towering over its residential neighbors. Reminiscent of the tower of neglect at the other end of OB, at Ebers and Greene Streets, this one attached to  4783 Pescadero doesn’t appear to have any neighbor opposition.

Of course, it’s been there literally for 6 to 8 years and neighbors I spoke with seemed to have become used to it. The current tenant, who has been there for about a year, likes the tower as it allows her to climb upstairs and see ocean sunsets.

The property owner, Laura Hershey, built it years ago and never glassed in the top 2 stories.

And it Looks like it was intentional. Here’s what the permit states:

The permit said 1,094 square feet of Patio/CVR/CVRP Porch/Decks/Balc.

OCEAN BEACH, combo permit to add a carport, a covered deck at the 2nd floor and a covered roof top deck. Zone = RM-1-1, Coastal Height Limit, Coastal City, Parking Impact, Ocean Beach Cottage Emerging District, CT-73.01.OAO:04-10-08:PLAN CHANGE: 8 ft high (min) awning at the rear of residence

Yet, it remains a puzzlement and questions as to its function or purpose persist.

There you have it – three puzzling projects to ponder.


Thanks to Geoff Page who assisted me in this post.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Another Air BnB November 28, 2018 at 1:05 pm

In regards to the third project: I’m not sure exactly what happens on those upper floors but the owner rents out multiple rooms in the house as STVR and has even added the trailer (seen in the photo) to the backyard and rents that out as another STVR. I know people who stayed in it… they said the whole set up is pretty strange.


hOBie November 29, 2018 at 11:10 am

That little RV – a STVR?? No way! (said an ignorant me) See this.

300+ listing in OB alone.


Tara Lawrence-Stuart April 12, 2019 at 6:18 pm

Laura Hershey left her third floor without windows and uses her two top stories for her ceramic studio. She is Clayshaper.com. I lived on Pescadero Drive 34 years and have a lot of her unique pottery pieces. I was shown around the place.


Tara Lawrence-Stuart April 12, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Addendum and correction to the above: I just checked and Laura’s clayshaper website no longer exists. While she still creates ceramics and pottery, she has been a pain-free chiropractor and I believe works out of her home, I think. She did have an office on Point Loma Avenue in South O.B. I moved in 2016 so am not sure. Sorry.


OB Mercy November 28, 2018 at 4:05 pm

The second project at 4925 Saratoga was not given the go ahead by the city, rather it was granted permission by the Coastal Commission. When I called the code enforcer at the CC, she said, “You know we’re FOR vacation rentals, right?”


Geoff Page November 30, 2018 at 12:49 pm

The city had to approve the project first. The process goes like this:

First to the local community planning board, which happened. They denied the project.

Then, to the Planning Commission where the planning board decision is discussed. Usually, if the local planning board is for a project, they wave it on high. If the planning board denies a project, they often just ignore it because the boards are advisory only. Planning boards can appeal a Planning Commission decision some of the time.

Then to City Council that usually rubber stamps the Planning Commission decision. Planning boards can also appeal the City Council decision some of the time.

Then, once it has been approved by the city, it goes to the Coastal Commission. The only reason the OB Planning Board saw the project was because a coastal permit was needed. Apparently, the Coastal Commission also approved the project and unless there is flagrant coastal violation or vehement opposition, they usually approve also. By the time it gets to Coastal, it would be unusual for any flagrant violations to still be in the project.


bobo November 30, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Exactly correct. I’m happy to hear folks like you can shed light on the process. Many people aren’t sure of the mechanisms and process to get a project off the ground. It’s very detailed, costly, and involved. I think if more people knew how this process worked, there would be less “anxiety” about how these things get off the ground.


nostalgic December 1, 2018 at 7:48 am

It was my understanding that after the city initially grants the permit, it goes no higher unless there is an appeal. It is a done deal after 10 days of granting the permit.


Geoff Page December 3, 2018 at 9:55 am

nostalgic, The permit is a coastal development permit and it has to go through the process I described. It still has to go through those steps with coastal coming at the end.


denine November 29, 2018 at 10:24 am

This article actually showed up in my Google News Feed. How cool is that?


kh November 30, 2018 at 12:16 pm

That house on Pescadero has me shaking my head every time I walk by it. I’m curious to see how it’s setup inside, if it was by design, or just incomplete.


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