On the books since 2003, the Sustainable Building Expedite Program is neither new nor little-known. Among other things, it offers speedy permit approval and significant wiggle room in complying with the letter of the land development code if the building meets certain green requirements, such as attaining the LEED silver standard of the U.S. Green Building Council.
But a proposal to build a two-story, four-unit condo that seeks permission to build significantly larger than permitted by code has caused members of the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB) to stand up and take notice. Chairman John Ambert has taken the unusual step of scheduling a special, mid-month meeting to address the matter 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave.
Board members say they want to develop a set of green standards they would require in order to support a larger-than-normally-allowed building. It’s a course that could be historic and precedent-setting in a community that values small-scale, beach-friendly development, they said on Sept. 2 at their regular monthly meeting.
The proposal prompting the discussion sits on a long-vacant, 7,500-square-foot lot at the corner of Muir Avenue and Abbott Street. The developer has asked for a deviation to a restriction that applies in residential areas in Ocean Beach and Point Loma and nowhere else in the city. It’s known as the .7 FAR rule, which stands for floor area ratio.
The code restricts the square footage of most residential buildings to seven-tenths of a property’s lot size, or floor area. Of the total square footage, only 75 percent may be allocated to livable space; the rest must be dedicated to enclosed parking.
Throughout the rest of the city, housing may be built to 100 percent or 120 percent of FAR.
Historically, community leaders have steadfastly supported .7 FAR. Last month, dozens of citizens representing eight Ocean Beach groups testified before the California Coastal Commission in support of the new, nearly approved Ocean Beach Community Plan, specifically citing its language in support of .7 FAR.
Proponents have asserted the rule is the community’s biggest protection against tacky, McMansion-style development that, in their view, has degraded other beach communities. Occasional requests to the OBPB from city officials and developers to support relaxing the standard and conform to the rest of the city have been sternly rebuffed.
The proposed condos represent the first time a developer has used the Sustainable Building Expedite Program to exceed .7 FAR and go for a larger building, board members said.
Philip Quatrino, owner of PQ Design Studio Inc., told the board that the building would achieve LEED silver status and qualify for the extra square footage with features like rooftop photovoltaics, on-site electric car recharging stations and xeriscaping.
Property owner Phil Coventry said the square footage couldn’t be reduced to .7 FAR without creating a “bad flow” to the building.
But several board members said the condo wasn’t worth giving up the .7 FAR restriction.
“You’re asking for a deviation to the most sacred thing we hold dear by offering something that meets the bare minimum,” Ambert said. “If you truly want our support, we have to see more.”
Board member Craig Klein agreed, saying he would likely hold out for a requirement to achieve LEED gold or platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest level.
“We’ve fought so long and hard for .7 FAR that we can’t deviate from it unless we have a well-documented reason,” Klein said.
The OBPB’s role is city planning is advisory only, and developers can legally build without its approval. But the prospect of a less-prohibitive policy could draw a “Who’s Who” of developers to the Sept. 16 meeting, board members said.
“I would expect the developer community would want to come here and weigh in,” Klein said. “This city policy is out there and people are going to want to use it.”