The Saga of the Controversial Froude Project at the San Diego Planning Commission
By Tom and Judy Parry / OB Rag
Amid our disappointment, we’re allowing the lessons we learned to sink in. The one most frightening is that it can happen on any O.B. street with similar zoning, even if no McMansions are present, even if the entire block is dead set against it.
We live on Froude Street, between Voltaire and Greene streets. As we blogged before, a 50-parcel with one single-family house is about to be split into two 25-foot lots, each with a three-level residence filling the lot and pushing the 30-foot height limit.
Froude sits on the boundary of the Peninsula and Ocean Beach advisory planning boards. We live in the Peninsula district, where the planning board voted against the project 9 to 1. The Ocean Beach board, though their boundary line down the middle of the street is just 20 feet away, was never notified by the city and not allowed to vote. The reason? “We’re not required to [notify them].”
The Planning Commission, seven appointed members, meets on the 12th floor of City Hall in the City Council Chambers. Ours is a working-class street and to get someone to take a half-day off from work to speak for their allotted three minutes, is, frankly, an imposition.
Our arguments were subjective:
- That the twin structures were just too massive, filling out every allowable inch of the land.
- That the tiny pieces of property in O.B. should be consolidated, not split.
- That the garish ultra-modern design clashed with the early 1900s bungalows, craftsmen and Spanish revival, Southern California style.
Our arguments were factual as well:
- That the designs violated the 70 percent ratio of building to land now the code in Ocean Beach, and even the Peninsula’s 75 percent ratio, at least using the square footage listed in the City’s own document.
- That the project violated design standards embodied in the Peninsula Community plan. Taller buildings should be stair-stepped and set back from the street. Garages should not be the most prominent part of a house’s front façade.
- That our street, short on parking like much of O.B., would lose one on-street space and several more if the residents used their garages for storage.
So, how did it go?
Commissioner James Whalen introduced a touch of irony when he said he had discovered that the mother of William Zounes – Maryann Zounes – the city’s project manager for this site, was chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board years ago. (Ironic, in that neither commissioner nor project manager saw any reason to notify today’s O.B. board of a project 20 feet away, hated by everyone.)
Arguments about bulk, scale and height went nowhere. One professional confided in us later that there are no longer grounds for an appeal, as long as they are permitted by city code.
Where we saw a loss of street parking, a commissioner saw a gain of six spaces if four cars were parked in the basement and two in the driveways.
Commissioner Stephen Haase asked if the Peninsula planning board had invited the (entire) Ocean Beach board to its meeting. (Well, no….)
Haase asked John Ambert, chair of the O.B. board, how he could speak for his colleagues. Did you actually vote on this? (Well, no…)
The argument that seemed to carry the most weight with the Planning Commission was the slide presented by the developer. It showed the locations of 15 or so McMansions in Ocean Beach. His message was that ours was “a street in transition” and that McMansions had been allowed on other “streets in transition” in O.B. so why not here?
But commissioners could not hide their sense of disdain when looking at the architect’s conception. Theresa Quiroz – who cast the only “no” vote – asked if the city could require that two token palm trees in the side yard be replaced by real shade trees. (The side yard on a 25-foot lot filled by house is only three feet. Does anyone know of a shade tree with only a three-foot span and whose roots won’t crack the foundation?)
Another commissioner noted that the blocks of Froude Street have street trees but this project has only concrete from property line to property line. Couldn’t you put in a boxed tree between the driveways?
Another asked if the stark white color on the exterior walls could be toned down to something softer to lighten the contrast.
One commissioner suggested that no existing neighbor would want to live next door to something like this, but that it would be fine for a young family just starting out.
Yes, we’re disappointed and we do realize that land values in Ocean Beach are only going to keep rising. Ocean Beach was developed a century ago, before the prevalence of the automobile and before every family felt it had to have a minimum of 2,000 feet of living space. If McMansions are allowed to pop up willy-nilly on every street, what will “our attitude, not a place” become?
What the planning commissioners missed by looking only at the details was the big picture. Ocean Beach spent a dozen years crafting a new community plan. The key provision, a lower building to land ratio of 70 percent, is aimed at preventing runaway density. The Planning Commission tried to gut that provision with no limit on exceptions. The community fought back and the City Council agreed with the community, chastising the Planning Commissioners with a 9-0 vote.
Now, the horrid case by case approvals of McMansions that led to the revolt in Ocean Beach, are being used as a justification for an assault on Point Loma.
The Peninsula Community Planning Board should amend its community plan to lower the Floor Area Ratio (building footprint to land area) from 75 percent to 70 percent. Both communities are in this crush to density together – that’s not Beside the Point.
A final note: The owner/developer was gracious to come over afterward and initiate a conversation. He was asked if, when emotions subside, he would meet with neighbors. He graciously said yes.
It is difficult to camouflage buildings that tower 15 feet or more over adjacent residences and bulge out in every direction. But let’s have that conversation. And, amid our disappointment, may we be as gracious.