Anti-‘McMansion’ group lobbies for stricter building regulations in coastal neighborhoods
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 02/25/18 - 08:41 AM | 1819 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A grassroots, anti-“McMansion” movement is branching out from La Jolla to environs including Pacific Beach.

Some PB homeowners, like Laurel Miller of Crown Point, are becoming increasingly concerned about neighbors’ alleged overbuilding. 

Miller cited the former community garden space at Shasta and Roosevelt streets near Crown Point Elementary, currently being redeveloped, as one example.

“We’re looking at 30 new homes that will replace the garden,” said Miller. “Developers are using the city’s municipal code and reinterpreting it to fit their own needs. The city is saying,’Ok, you can do that.’ People don’t know what to do to fight them.”

The expanding movement opposing “mansionization,” of which Miller is a part, has formed a group called Citizens for Responsible Coastal Development. 

One solution, proposed by CRCD, to overbuilding is to create an incentive-based revision to current coastal residential development codes. Specifically targeted is the “50-percent rule" in single-family zones. The rule mandates builders leave 50 percent or more of existing structure walls to qualify for "remodel" permits, rather than undergo a more costly coastal development permit.

Recently, CRCD has been busy lobbying La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Peninsula planning groups. All three were generally supportive of CCRD’s proposed reforms.

CRCD visited Pacific Beach Planning Group Jan. 24. Group chair Henish Pulickal said planners are taking a wait-and-see attitude on land-use code reform.

 “We heard CRCD present their case to us, and we'll be reviewing the specifics in more detail, and determine what our position will be as a group,” Pulickal said. “The general consensus is we support the concept. But we need to understand the details better, before we can send out an official support letter.” 

The development community seems divided on land-use reform.

La Jolla architect Paul Benton, for one, is of the opinion the 50-percent rule is worthwhile if not misapplied. However, Benton noted he and other colleagues acknowledge the rule can cause “unintended consequences” that probably should be addressed.

“The 50-percent rule started out with the best of intentions,” he said. “It’s a good rule meant to be an escape valve for smaller remodels.” 

Benton said the 50-percent rule helps small remodelers “escape the time-consuming, costly and complex problem” of going through additional layers of public review.

Benton suggested an alternative. 

“The 50-percent rule could be modified to allow no more than a 50-percent expansion of occupiable floor area,” he said. “That might bring the rule back to its original intent.”

Benton pointed out a La Jolla Shores subcommittee now “recommends to city planning staff whether a project is major or minor,” adding that helps determine whether a project is large enough to trigger extra public review.

Benton added that the proportional size of the remodel, in relation to its lot, factors into determining whether a project is minor or major.

“If it’s a very large site and you’re adding 1,500 square feet, the addition disappears into the site and it can be considered minor,” he said. “But if you’re adding 2,000 square feet on a smaller lot, that could be considered major.”

Reacting to the 50-percent rule controversy, Matt Adams, vice president of the San Diego Building Industry Association said, “We have a housing crisis, and the only way we’re going to meet the growing demand is to put more product on the ground.”

Adams argued, “People should be permitted to build, provided they stay within the building envelope and abide by the rules set by the city.”

To those complaining a next-door building might be too big, Adams countered, “Others would say that could be a multi-generational house, something that helps solve our housing crisis.”

Adams opposes “negativity” in land use.

“No is never a plan,” he said. “We need thoughtful analysis, and strategies, to resolve the horrible housing crisis, which we have.”

Adams concluded the best way to resolve current serious housing shortages is to “build like we did right after World War II, that’s the only way prices will stabilize, and eventually come down.”

The position of some detractors of the 50-percent rule is that it is an exploitable loophole for developers, and an end-around public review.

CRCD has worked for nearly three years, with participation of professional planners, architects, and developers, to redefine and clarify the 50-percent rule to help manage perceived over-building of coastal lots. 

CRCD claims revising the 50 percent rule “will encourage a more neighborhood-friendly process” by clarifying terms like ‘remodel’ and ‘gross floor area,’ while preserving the character of coastal neighborhoods making the development process more transparent.

Miller’s attitude toward revising allegedly outdated city municipal codes is that “rules are meant to be broken — so let’s break them.” She argues maintaining existing community character is spelled out in PB’s community plan.

“[The plan] says redevelopment should not be detrimental to existing structures,” Miller said, noting Crown Point is dominated by “1940s beach cottages,” not contemporary architecture.

Nonetheless, Miller said, “We’re being affected by this [50-percent rule] on a daily basis, and it pits neighbor versus neighbor.”

Miller of Crown Point would like to see the 50-percent rule overhauled — not deleted.

“We want the city to get back to the spirit of the rule, which is meant to allow people to still add on to their home without getting a coastal development permit, but also leave some of the structure intact for the benefit of neighbors,” she said.

“The 50-percent rule was not meant to take every structure down to three sticks and a crossbar. It was not meant to start (construction) over again, so developers, who are doing this for profit, do not have to pay for costly permitting.”

Added Miller, “The rule just needs to be fair for everybody, including neighbors.”

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