VAC denies mixed-use project on 101

VAC denies mixed-use project on 101
The View Assessment Commission at its March 17 meeting votes to recommend the City Council deny a proposed project on South Coast Highway 101, Dahlia Drive and South Sierra Avenue, where story poles have been in place for almost a year, because it would block east-facing views. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

SOLANA BEACH — The luck of the Irish was not on the side of American Assets Trust this St. Patrick’s Day.

Its proposed mixed-use complex on South Coast Highway 101, Dahlia Drive and South Sierra Avenue was denied 4-0-1, with two members absent, by the View Assessment Commission during its March 17 meeting.

American Assets purchased the approximately 1.9-acre lot for $6.85 million in late 2011. The site is currently home to an abandoned trailer park and run-down buildings.

Plans call for 31 rental units, about 34,500 square feet of commercial and retail space, approximately 14,100 square feet of office space and 341 onsite parking stalls in a two-level below-grade garage.

Commercial and retail businesses would face Highway 101.

Residential units would front Sierra.

Architect Jim Gabriel from Hanna Gabriel Wells said the intent of the development is to “celebrate” the corner of Highway 101 and Dahlia with a public plaza and surround it with a commercial/retail element with second-story professional offices with open exterior terraces and balconies.

The residential roofs are shaped in different ways to create an eclectic character, he added.

“We really believe the project is designed to fit the scale of the community, and we think it really relates well to both the neighboring commercial and residential uses,” he said. “We’re confident that the project will ultimately enhance the views across the site by removing the existing dilapidated buildings, the broken-up concrete, the weeds and replacing them with an appropriately scaled architecture.”

He said “a great of the project” is well below the 35-foot maximum allowable height limit.

“That’s all being done in an attempt to open the project up and make it more permeable,” Gabriel added. “The entire project has been designed to stay within all the regulations, which will ultimately create that beautiful character that we’re looking for.”

Story poles have remained in place since they were erected on May 5, 2014, even though they were expected to be up for only 30 to 60 days.

By the Jan. 26 deadline, the city received view assessment applications from Greg Wedig and Kara Kornher, who live at 347 and 325 S. Sierra, respectively.

Several photographs depicting the views from various rooms in their condominium units were shown at the meeting to illustrate the east-facing views that would be lost based on the story pole placement.

“The view from my property is a very rare view of the terraced hillsides of Solana Beach,” Wedig said. “I don’t believe there is really any disagreement that the major portions of my view will be entirely blocked if the proposed height of the project is approved.

“Not only will the views be blocked but the building will be so intrusively tall that the effect would be tantamount of going from beach-city living to big-city downtown urban living, an environment where tall buildings overwhelmingly intrude as to produce a walled-in effect,” he added. “I don’t believe the proposed structure is designed or situated in such a manner as to minimize impairment of views. Nor do I believe the structure is compatible with the immediate neighbor.”

Wedig said no one from American Assets contacted him to discuss his view concerns, although Gabriel visited his property.

“I am happy to see mixed-use projects being proposed for development in Solana Beach,” Wedig said. “And I really like the project as I saw it. And I wish it didn’t impact my views.”

He said he believes the project will have a “detrimental effect” on his property value.

“It’s a really beautiful view that I would be sad to lose,” Kornher said.

As an advisory board, the VAC must focus on five findings when making recommendations to City Council.

1. The applicant has made a reasonable attempt to resolve view impairment issues.

2. The proposed structure doesn’t significantly impair view from public property.

3. The project is designed and situated to minimize view impairment.

4. There are no significant cumulative view impairments.

5. It is compatible with the immediate surrounding neighborhood character.

Members can deny a project, approve it as presented or with conditions or continue the hearing to a subsequent meeting.

They said they could not make any of the findings, especially the first and third.

“We tend to think of sunsets over the ocean as the only possible type of view,” VAC member Jack Hegenauer said. “But to many people other types of views are highly valued, including the ribbon of lights at night from the cars on Interstate 5 in spite of the fact that they’re spewing air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

“So I think that we do have to acknowledge that (a view) toward the east, toward Cedros, toward the hill … is an attractive view,” he said, adding that the views from both units “are significant and the impairment is not only significant but it’s actually rather complete.”

“It’s pretty clear that not much, if anything, has been done to minimize the view impairment if it was really understood in the first place,” Hegenauer added. “The record is virtually devoid of any meaningful communication between the applicant and the appellants.

“I think the appellants asked for some consideration,” he added. “What they got in return was a visitation to their properly to see the situation. But their further attempts to communicate with the architect and further up the line … were pretty much rebuffed.”

City Council will use the commission’s recommendation when making its final decision about the project. At press time, representatives from American Assets had not responded to a request for comments.

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