The City Council approved the first exemptions from its landmark Interim Development Ordinance on Tuesday, granting relief to a hodgepodge of private property owners and small-time developers who demonstrated that they are special hardship cases under the new slow-growth regulations.
The council approved 13 of the 17 applicants claiming hardship on its first day of hearings, votes that will allow the landowners to build 30 new residential units in various parts of the city. Two applicants were rejected, and decisions on two more were postponed.
Council sentiment strongly favored most of the applicants, who portrayed themselves as well-meaning private landowners or small-scale developers seeking to build dwellings that they would occupy themselves or rent for some extra income.
Mostly Little Ventures
"Most of them had small projects," said Mike Stepner, acting director of the city's Planning Department. "They had hardships because they were not the big merchant-builder. Most wanted a single unit or two, mostly for some extra money. The council found that the impacts on the community were minimal."
Under the IDO, which was approved in July, the council set a citywide cap of 8,000 new residences during the next 18 months and parceled out exact numbers of residences allowed in each city neighborhood.
In approving the new development, the council avoided going over its self-imposed cap by approving new units in neighborhoods that had not reached their growth caps or by "borrowing" from neighborhoods with available residences to allow building in communities that had reached their limit.
"For the record," Mayor Maureen O'Connor said at the end of more than two hours of hearings, "we have not exceeded our 8,000 cap."
'Much Less Polite'
Tuesday's hearings were for people asking to build three units or fewer. Next month, large builders will come before the council in an effort to receive similar exemptions--called "variances"--for much larger developments.
"That's going to be much less, shall we say, polite," O'Connor said after Tuesday's meeting.
The hearing brought out people like widow Ruth Cecil, who wept bitterly as she told council members that she has been living on borrowed money while waiting for her parcel of land in Clairemont Mesa to be developed. Her husband started improving the land before he died.
"My economic future is waiting on this," she said. Her request was quickly approved.
Many of the requests were for land in Pacific Beach, which was limited to just 50 new units over 12 months under an Aug. 7 amendment to the IDO. That allocation was quickly expended.
"All of a sudden, on Aug. 7 . . . we went from 166 units down to 50," said developer Kim Fowler, who asked for and won approval to put up three new units and replace one unit at 4676 Morrell St. "This really puts a crimp in my whole budget for quite some time."
Others told the council that they had begun work on projects before the IDO was passed, only to find that the rules suddenly changed when the new ordinance took effect. In some cases, they were paying substantial interest on loans.
"We aren't asking for anything controversial, anything that the neighbors are upset about," said Frank Rys, a lifelong resident of Pacific Beach who was allowed to develop land at 1860 Pacific Beach Drive. "It's simply that we were caught in a time jam."
In approving the new construction in Pacific Beach, which has exhausted its allocation of 50 new units for the next 12 months, Councilman Mike Gotch, who represents the area, made it clear that he considers this group the last ones who can legitimately claim that the timing of the IDO approval interfered with their plans.
"These people were all caught up by the ordinance," Gotch said. To stay within the 8,000-residence cap, the council took units from the Midway neighborhood and added them to the Pacific Beach total. The council also ordered builders to complete work on their projects within one year.
The council showed a willingness to listen to opponents when it turned down a request by William Spriggs for permission put up three new units and a replacement unit at 4409 Florida St. Opponents presented a petition they said was signed by 142 residents of that community opposing the project.
In another longstanding development matter, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board has lifted its ban on sewer hookups in the North City area. The move, approved at the panel's meeting Monday, allows 706 people the right to hook up to sewers and occupy homes.
The ban was lifted in response to the city's $8.6-million repair of Pump Station 64, which had failed 59 times in the last eight years, said David Barker, an engineer with the board. The largest failure, in March, spilled 20.8 million gallons of sewage into Los Penasquitos Lagoon.
Barker said the repairs to the Sorrento Valley-based pump station, along with city promises that sewer mains running from the station will be repaired by Feb. 1, prompted the panel to lift the ban.
The end of the moratorium allows people who received building permits between Jan. 23 and June 8 to occupy homes when they are built. An additional 1,052 people who received permits after June 8 are still subject to a city-imposed ban on hooking up to sewers. That moratorium is scheduled to be lifted after completion of the new sewer mains Feb. 1.