La Jolla Colony: Homes for 'City Within City'

Times Staff Writer

When somebody suggested the crane as the official bird of the state of California because there was so much construction going on, an area just east of La Jolla that has been called "the Century City" of San Diego must have been in mind.

More familiarly known as "The Golden Triangle" because of the vast funds being poured into real estate development there, the 5,000-acre site is bordered by California 52, Interstate 805 and Interstate 5.

Within these boundaries, there are so many buildings under way that Daren Groth, San Diego division president for the Bren Co., said, "You can't come here and look in any direction without seeing something going on."

That something is now construction of such variety that Groth observed, "What is happening in the Golden Triangle is that a whole city is being built within a city." The Golden Triangle is within the city limits of San Diego.

Most of the construction in the area has been commercial--office buildings and hotels--but now there is a large residential community being built by the Bren Co.

A new sign on Interstate 5 announces it. The sign reads: La Jolla Colony Drive.

It is a $1-million road, a major link connecting the 225-acre community to the freeway. "The name on the freeway is also great publicity," Groth conceded. "When people see it, they realize that La Jolla Colony is not only a neighborhood, but it's also on the freeway."

When he leaves his office in the Golden Triangle to go downtown, he drives this road, missing traffic and lights, he said. "So, people living on the periphery of La Jolla Colony will also benefit from the road, and I think this helped us in selling the project (to local officials)," he added.

From what he says, though, it didn't take much to sell the project in this sense. "Only one person showed up at any of the hearings, and he spoke in support."

This was probably because the Bren Co. was a known player in the local development arena, having completed the 300-acre La Jolla Village master-planned project just west of Interstate 5 in 1979.

Other Opportunities

While working on La Jolla Village, Groth kept looking at this large piece of land across the freeway and thinking that it had potential. "But it took 3 1/2 years for us to get the land-use entitlement through the city, so we closed escrow in 1982," he explained. "The time for processing was normal."

What has been unusual since then is the time that the Bren Co. has taken to build and sell housing. Groth said, "We're several years ahead of our absorption for units sold. The truth is that we're already looking for other opportunities in the San Diego area."

Of course, he is always looking ahead. Truth is, there is still much to do at La Jolla Colony.

Grading began two years ago, and Bren officials then figured that the development would take 8 to 10 years to complete. Now the estimate is another four to five years.

Common Theme

About 600 people already live there, but when La Jolla Colony is completed, it will include 3,594 homes in such an array of styles and sizes that Groth likens the community to "a supermarket of housing.

"A first-time buyer could go in and buy a condo for $76,990," he noted, "or someone else could buy a single-family home for $250,000."

The first single-family homes in the Golden Triangle are being built at La Jolla Colony, according to Groth, who called the community "the last major residential piece" in the 8,492-acre University Community Planning Area, which includes the Golden Triangle as well as the University of San Diego campus and the Torrey Pines Reserve. Groth is active in the University Community Planning Group, which consists mainly of local residents.

About 1,500 acres of the University planning area were dedicated to residential construction. "And a lot of single-family homes were developed in this area in the '60s and '70s," he noted, but within the Golden Triangle, housing was limited to about 400 condominiums in several locations until the Bren Co. came along.

"What's also different at La Jolla Colony is that it is a thematic community," he said. There is a mixture of products and densities tied together by a common Mediterranean architectural theme.

The Bren Co. is offering five types of housing, including town houses that proved so popular, with more than 200 being sold since June, that another 126, not originally planned, will open Saturday.

However, there are also some so-called "guest builders" who are planning to build a 300-unit senior citizens condominium complex in twin 15-story towers combining homeownership with life-care services; several apartment projects, including one with 312 units; a 72,645-square-foot shopping center and a Mormon temple. Due to open in early 1987, the temple will serve about 48,000 Mormons in San Diego County.

Recreation Centers

"The only other (Mormon) temple in Southern California is in Los Angeles," Groth said. "Architecturally, this will be the kind of building that people will come out to take pictures of." It will be 50,000 square feet in size and will be situated on about five acres. "So, there will be a lot of landscaping that will be like a big garden," he added.

More than 40% of La Jolla Colony itself will be left as open space, and much of that will be landscaped and suitable for family picnics and similar activities. To minimize impact on surrounding communities, La Jolla Colony will have 16 recreation centers.

The Bren Co. has been particularly concerned about the impact, because La Jolla Colony is considered an "infill project." That is, a residential project that is built near the center of town after the commercial and employment centers are established.

As Groth likes to point out, La Jolla Colony is "15 minutes from city hall." It is, as he describes it, on "a well-located piece of property in the middle of everything that's going on." It is near UC San Diego and Scripps Institute as well as downtown San Diego.

Allows More Flexibility

The services and major infra-structure were already there. "There are also existing schools in the community," he said. "So while the land is more expensive than property on the periphery of the city, there are advantages."

There were trade-offs in getting the project approved as a planned residential development (PRD), he conceded, but the advantages prevailed.

A planned residential development allows more flexibility in design and density, he maintains. "You can do things that are different from the underlying zoning. You can have more or less density because you have to do a special site plan."

Because of that, the city exercises more control "because the city is not just looking at zoning but also at architecture," he explained, but his company created an urban design manual that made preparation of the site plan a snap.

The manual set construction standards for the Bren Co. and its guest builders. "Now the city is using it as a sample of the type of thing it wants to see in other communities in San Diego as well," he added.

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