Thanks to a Loophole, Remodels Along the Coast Are Actually New Homes

         New homes in Bird Rock- La Jolla are often much bigger than their neighbors, with the help of a development loophole.

Coastal residents in San Diego have for years hated that developers can tear down small homes in older neighborhoods and build much bigger ones in their place. 

They say the new homes are big and ugly, block the sun and the breeze and strangle the sensation that you’re on the coast. The catch-all complaint is that the new, big homes are destroying the “community character” of established neighborhoods.

One specific loophole in the city’s development regulations makes it a relatively easy process – at least easier than the alternative – and a handful of local developers have turned it into a lucrative business.

Developers can acquire permits to tear down and rebuild a new home in as little as a day, if they keep 50 percent of the existing home. Otherwise, they’d have to get a coastal development permit, which requires a political process developers say adds $100,000 to a project and delays it by about a year.

The law as written is intended to make it easy to remodel a home, but developers have learned they can usually figure out how to keep enough walls to build a new home from scratch and qualify as a remodel.

It’s a way of circumventing a permit only required on the coast, thanks to the 1976 Coastal Act, which intended to control development on the coast and protect coastal resources.

The 50 percent rule is enticing all over the coast, because it saves significant time and money. But it’s become especially controversial in Bird Rock, where there’s been a rash of rebuilds in recent years. Old, small beach bungalows there have provided a ready-made supply of chances to buy, demolish and rebuild them into big, modern homes.

What isn’t clear is whether the Coastal Commission, the state agency that oversees coastal development and signed off on the city’s regulations that exempt certain projects from getting a coastal development permit, cares about any of this.

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