Hillel project a ‘no go’ for Community Planning Association
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 06/13/12 - 03:31 PM | 6475 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Despite major revisions to the proposed UCSD Hillel Center for Jewish Life by architect Mark Steele — including downsizing the square-footage of the building by half of what was originally proposed in 2000, breaking up the bulk into three separate buildings and creating an open-space park for the community’s benefit — opponents of the project remain adamant that the religiously affiliated student center does not belong in a single-family neighborhood.

At the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s (LJCPA) June 7 meeting, project proponents and opponents alike came out by the dozens to speak to the merits of the project, address existing and potentially imminent traffic problems in the area, and debate whether or not the facility would, in fact, serve as a religious institution or as a student center.

Hillel director Michael Rabkin requested three things from the LJCPA — a street vacation, a site development permit (SDP) for the proposed facility and a temporary use permit for Hillel’s temporary administrative office, located at 8976 Cliffridge Ave.

“This is a two-phase project. Phase 1 requires a permit for the administrative use of a house purchased by the Potiker Family Foundation for temporary use by Hillel for administrative offices,” said Rabkin. “Phase 2 would be the construction of the permanent facility.”

The revised, decade-long project proposal consists of an approximately 6,600-square-foot structure broken up into three separate facilities on a triangular lot bounded by La Jolla Village Drive to the north, La Jolla Scenic Way to the east and La Jolla Scenic Drive North to the southwest. The buildings, as proposed, would be surrounded by an outdoor courtyard and 27-space surface parking lot. Phase 2 would also entail converting the existing cul-de-sac at the end of La Jolla Scenic Drive North into part of a 10,000-square-foot landscaped park and bike path for public use. Upon completion of the facility, the temporary office space would revert back to single-family use, assured Rabkin.

“It’s a permanent religious building, which is an appropriate use in this single-family zone, and the proposed development of the two-phase Jewish student center complies with all the regulations of the land development code,” he said. “Hillel wants to be a good neighbor.”

Permitted uses in a single-family zone include allowances for churches, temples or permanent buildings used primarily for religious purposes.

The Catch-22, according to some trustees, is whether or not the facility is, in fact, a religious building or if it is a student center.

“Is this a student center or is this a primarily religious use?” asked trustee Tim Lucas during the meeting. “If this really is a religious institution, then you have to have double or triple the parking that’s being provided to meet the city codes. If it’s not, then you don’t have that requirement, but it doesn’t fit in the single-family zone.”

Lucas, among others, also issued concern that the development of the Hillel project in a single-family zone would set a precedent for more creep from the university into the nearby residential neighborhoods.

“There are 57 religious-affiliated groups on campus. I think this could be a problem because any group that claims to have a religious affiliation could start buying houses and putting centers into neighborhoods,” he said.

In addition to the zoning issues, some trustees and neighbors also raised objections to the proposed street vacation and lane narrowing that they said goes against the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) and will increase traffic in the already vehicle-ridden neighborhood.

“Every day I worry about my kids crossing the street,” said next-door neighbor and UCSD professor Akif Tezcan. “If you narrow that street down, it’s an accident waiting to happen. You don’t want to be responsible for that … I’d love to have trees lining the streets, but it’s going to make life a little bit more dangerous around there.”

Proponents of the project claimed that narrowing the streets would actually slow traffic down and that the current traffic problems should be dealt with separately.

“There’s already certain safety hazards and danger on that street that are irrespective of this site development, and that needs to be addressed separately, not by shooting down this plan,” said Rabkin.

While many of the trustees applauded architect Mark Steele and title-owner Hillel for addressing the community’s previous concerns regarding the project, trustees determined the findings could not be made for the issuance of a site development permit for the facility or a temporary use permit for the administrative office in the residential neighborhood. Trustees also voted to deny the requested street vacation, which would pave the way for the project to be built.
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