For La Jolla residents worried about the "mansionization" of their community's older neighborhoods, another domino fell last week with the approval of a multilot house expansion on quiet Virginia Way.
Like other older neighborhoods in La Jolla, Virginia Way is a street with established homes and a timeless, unhurried atmosphere. Just to the east of and parallel to Torrey Pines Road, the street is easy walking distance to "The Village" — downtown La Jolla. Bicycles frequently cruise along the street, designated as a link in the Pacific Coast Bike Trail by Caltrans in 1976.
While some residents would like to see the villagelike character of such neighborhoods preserved, city officials can only do so much to regulate property owners' rights. Inevitably, lot owners who believe bigger is better are rebuilding, adding larger, more ostentatious homes to otherwise subtly developed streets
The latest expansion is to the home of David Copley, president of the Copley press. Today, his 3000-square-foot home on Virginia Way is almost unnoticed by passersby. A black metal fox weathervane turns with the wind atop the house, nicknamed "Fox Hole." (David's mother, U-T publisher Helen Copley, lives at a nearby estate known as "Fox Hill.")
The new Fox Hole will be more of a fortress, as plans call for tearing down the house next door (which Copley bought last year), building a much larger structure, and attaching it to Copley's current home. The new mansion, combined with a guest house and pool room, will total 8859 square feet, covering nearly 60 percent of two double lots (the equivalent of four city lots).
Last February, Copley filed plans for an even larger home but was denied. That home would have covered 9800 square feet, measuring 140 feet by 160 feet. The revised plans, which received final approval last week, trimmed 1000 square feet to fall within city codes by 50 square feet. With no appeals, the project does not require planning commission approval.
The house is maxed out for those lots, but i does meet the code," city planner Kevin McGee said.
Copley, who lives alone, will have plenty of living space inside. Approaching the home from the street, a visitor taking the Robin Leach tour of the property will walk about 40 feet up a flagstone path through a landscaped yard to a large front doorway with white pillars (the garage and driveway are in the back.) On the left is the original house, and on the right is the new add-on. According to blueprints filed with the city, the doors open onto a 182-square-foot entry room with cathedral ceilings and tall windows reaching the top of the second story. The entryway faces a spiral staircase, with an elevator to the right.
To the left of the entry will be a study with a stone-hearthed fireplace, then a library, wet bar, morning room, patio, and guest bedroom with bathroom opening onto the back yard and patio. All of this area, remodeled from Copley's existing house, will have refinished hardwood floors.
Making a right turn from the entryway, two steps down lead into a sunken living room. A left turn through an arched doorway and down two more steps leads to a second living room with a stone-hearthed fireplace. Continuing through the second living room, one passes a "china hall"into the kitchen, with its kitchen nook and attached "powder room." The kitchen connects to the dining room, which is separated from the entryway by the elevator and staircase. The kitchen and dining room opens onto a patio, and the back yard includes a modest-sized, kidney-shaped pool and poolroom, large patio area, three-car garage with attached exercise room, and guest house. The landscaping will be redone in flagstone mixed with trees and shrubbery.
Taking the elevator or spiral staircase upstairs, one faces a long hallway. On the left is another exercise patio with attached bathroom. On the immediate right are the guest quarters, with a bedroom, attached bath, dressing area, and guest terrace. Continuing down the hall on the right, there is a sitting room, then the master suite, complete with bedroom, stone-hearthed fireplace, wet bar, walk-in closet, dressing room, and master bathroom and balcony.
On the street side, the house will be coral stucco with red brick exterior trim and bronze-flashed clay tile roofing. Windows, doors, and wrought-iron railing will be painted Spanish white, and shutters and fascia will be Newport blue.
The project was coordinated by an interior designer with A.C. Brown Construction. Not using an architect "is unusual for a house of that size," according to city planner Ron Buckley. After reviewing the blueprints, one architect, who has designed several well-known La Jolla buildings, expressed reservations about the home blending in with the existing neighborhood.
"It's obvious a new structure is being added onto an old structure," he said. "They are applying Spanish-style trim on a Craftsman-style house, and it looks incongruous. The designer put a kind of gaudy exterior trim on the old half of the house to try and match the new half, but it looks odd."
Copley did not return telephone calls. But Don Emerson, chairman of the La Jolla Citizens Committee, said that group believes the finished Copley project will fit in with nearby homes. "The design was deliberately done in sympathy with the original house," he said, adding that none of Copley's neighbors attended planning meetings to oppose the project. City planner McGee said he received only one call from a neighborhood, who was concerned about how the house would affect his view. City planners do consider "compatibility" of new homes, but only in terms of size and height. "There's nothing that says you have to build a tastefully designed house or rebuild in the same style as the existing house," McGee said.
But the size of such rebuilt homes has caused some distress in La Jolla's older neighborhoods. The La Jolla Shores Association is seeking to lower the allowable lot coverage of a single-family home in that neighborhood to a maximum of 50 percent, instead of the citywide average of 60 percent.
First District City Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer, who lives in and represents La Jolla, last year criticized mansion-building in La Jolla's established neighborhoods, some dating back to the 1930s and '40s. As city officials discussed closing loopholes in regulation used to calculate permissible volumes of single-family homes, Wolfsheimer was quoted in the San Diego Union (November 24, 1991) as saying that those who want more should consider heading toward North County's wide-open, ranch-style communities.
"I've always believed people select a neighborhood because they like its character, and now you're seeing people who pick a house because they just want to redo it, or live in La Jolla, or build another house.... You want to build a huge house — go to Fairbanks Ranch."
But it appears La Jolla lot owners with big plans won't have to move north. Although the Copley name probably didn't hurt in getting the Virginia Way project approved, last week's approval seems to indicate that lot owners will have little trouble getting permission to build up.
The Copley project even breezed through local hearings, receiving a 10-to-0 vote of support from the La Jolla Coastal Development Permit Subcommittee, a joint committee of the La Jolla Town Council and the La Jolla Community Planning Association.
"There wasn't a lot of opposition to it," said Mariam Kirby, a member of the subcommittee. "We didn't have any serious concerns about it. It really wasn't that large of a house, and it is set back from the street. It doesn't look like some kind of gargantuan structure dominating the street."
Emerson, chairman of the committee, explained that Virginia Way is a street that's changing. "It's getting redeveloped," he said. Across the street from Copley's home, several houses have been redeveloped — but on one double lot, not two. The new construction is roughly double the size of those already redeveloped neighboring houses, according to McGee.
"Yes, it is a big house," Emerson said. "It will be the largest house in the neighborhood. But someone has to have the largest house on the block."