Coastal Commission puts off decision on condos development; planners to take it up
by Tony De Garate
Published - 10/19/11 - 04:11 PM | 4647 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A decision to approve a 10-unit, 30-foot-high condo north of the Ocean Beach lifeguard tower parking lot has been postponed to give community planners a chance to scrutinize it.

Rather than grant an amendment to a previously approved coastal development permit for Ocean Park Villas at the southwest corner of Saratoga Avenue and Abbott Street, the California Coastal Commission instead approved a two-month continuance at its regular monthly meeting Oct. 6 in Huntington Beach.

The decision allows the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB) to take up the project at its next monthly meeting

Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave. The board’s Project Review Committee was scheduled to debate the matter Oct. 19 and make a recommendation to the full board.

The city usually decides coastal development permits, but the Coastal Commission has retained jurisdiction for this project because it abuts the beach. Even so, it may have been a mistake to allow the project to get on the commission agenda without more community input, commissioners said in a unanimous decision.

The decision was a partial victory for members of the OBPB, three of whom traveled to Orange County to ask the commission to deny the amendment and make the applicant start the approval process all over again.

The project calls for demolition of the four standing buildings — three apartment buildings with a total of 15 units, and a long-since-closed restaurant building adjacent to the grass that was once the site of Hodad’s. The new condos would include 25 parking places, 20 of which would be underground.

The Coastal Commission in January 2009 approved a similar 12-condo building at the site designed by Ocean Beach architect Steve Lombardi, but the land was sold last year to 1984 Abbott LLC, c/o Clark Realty Capital, headquartered in Virginia. The permit amendment became necessary when the new agent, La Jolla-based Marengo Morton Architects, redesigned the project. Among the changes: reducing the number of units to 10, moving the driveway from Saratoga Avenue to Abbott Street, moving the building’s eastern edge 30 feet to the west and changing the parking configuration.

The new design improves views and adds 1,300 square feet of landscaping, Claude Anthony Marengo of Marengo Morton Architects told commissioners.

“We chose to reduce the project to get some better units and not make it so tight,” Marengo told commissioners. “We feel it’s a minor amendment, but a very effective amendment that renders a better project.”

But Tom Gawronski of the OBPB said the latest design was “full of nonconformities” to municipal code and “not worthy of a coastal development permit.”

The parking configuration came as a “major shock,” Gawronski said, noting the underground configuration in the final proposal was different than the at-grade configuration that was proposed when the permit amendment application was first submitted June 27.

“This is a 14,000-square-foot building right in the middle of the beach. It’s going to be a defining structure for the community of Ocean Beach,” Gawronski said. “We understand someone’s going to build condos on that lot. We’d like it to be a conforming building and something the community can live with.”

The OBPB is sanctioned by the city to gather citizen input on development projects and land use-related issues, but board members said the city didn’t ask for their review before submitting a local agency review form, which the Coastal Commission requires before considering a permit. The commission requires the form to ensure all local discretionary approvals, said Eric Stevens of the San Diego Coast District Office.

But commissioners said they were confused by a staff report that charged OBPB Chairman Giovanni Ingolia was contacted three times and did not ask the staff to hold off on its report to allow OBPB members to review the plan. Ingolia acknowledged calling Stevens but said he had called to discuss a different matter. He said the final drawings, dated Sept. 29, were filed too late for the board’s regular monthly meeting.

Coastal Commissioner Esther Sanchez said she suspected the city erred by not reaching out to the OBPB.

Marengo said he planned to attend both OBPB meetings in support of the project. He said last-minute changes in parking were a result of community feedback.

“We decided to offer an olive branch and give the community something they could feel more comfortable with; something that would work on all bases,” Marengo said.

But the Coastal Commission staff report said the previous at-grade parking configuration did not meet code requirements, though the subsequent below-grade configuration does.
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