Kellejian: Building process needs fix
Other officials come to its defense
From across the Solana Beach City Council chamber, Joe Kellejian said he could see members of the public shaking their heads.
The governing body was going through a contentious review of a proposed dual-condo to replace an outdated two-story house on East Cliff Street. Several residents from the neighborhood spoke out against construction, saying it would dwarf all other homes in the area. While the city staff reported the building was consistent with the general plan and satisfied zoning requirements, the council denied the project with only Kellejian voting to support it.
“I cannot keep going down this road,” he said. “For myself and the other councilmembers to have to judge it on, well I don’t know what they’re judging it on, but they’re judging it in their own way.”
Prospective builders in Solana Beach first submit designs to the city’s planning committee, where they are vetted to make sure they are consistent with zoning regulations and the general plan. The project is then formally presented to the City Council, which decides whether its bulk and scale are compatible with the neighborhood.
“We are purposefully subjective because you cannot quantify quality,” said Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner. “We have made a substantial investment to live where we live. We have small town charm and beachside character, and our job is to protect that as we progress and develop.”
Kellejian said decisions based on subjectivity are unfair to the applicant.
“It’s very hard to go through the entire process and go through all that time, effort and money and then have something that’s discretionary (be the basis for a denial), and that’s the paramount issue here,” he said.
Councilman Dave Roberts said city staff informs applicants that despite adhering to zoning standards, there are still discretionary elements to decision making. He said they are encouraged to work with neighbors on coming up with acceptable blueprints.
Applicants and architects contacted for this story declined to comment.
As of late, Kellejian has often been the lone supporting vote on projects that are denied by the council. He said he would like to see a less discretionary “tool-kit” approach adopted, much like in the city’s view assessment process that aims to resolve conflicts over blocked views. That would have to happen when the city updates its general plan, a roughly $1.3 million process that takes three years, and will not be moving forward until at least next fiscal year.
“I would not want to see the current process changed,” Roberts said, adding he believes it is the council’s primary job to decide on these issues.
Other cities such as Del Mar and Encinitas have separate boards to handle the vast majority of these decisions. Brian Mooney, Del Mar’s interim planning director, said most of the discretionary deliberations have to do with how a project may affect another home’s view.
Although an applicant can go to court after a project is denied, judges generally are unwilling to overturn a council’s decision. That, combined with the cost of a lawsuit, makes the prospect of filing a writ of mandate extremely rare.
“Truthfully I can’t think of a specific application I’ve been involved with that has actually gone to court,” said development consultant Bob Scott, who spent several years working in the city of Del Mar’s planning department. “I don’t know that that’s a real viable option.”
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