The Copley estate (left of center) included 25 acres of open space, the fate of which is now being bandied about.
Neighbors resisting the development of two houses on a 25-acre piece of land — formerly owned by the Copleys and next door to David Copley's Fox Hill Estate — lost their appeal of the development at the San Diego City Council meeting on Monday, January 25. The neighbors' attorney, Kevin Johnson, said his clients, Ethna Piazza and Gaston Molina, have not decided if they will file a lawsuit within the next 30 days.
The last piece of the Copley estate, a huge L-shaped tract with the official address of 6850 Country Club Drive, is set to be divided into three lots — two of which will have houses. The third, a one-acre piece, will become part of Fox Hill Estate. Of the two remaining pieces (parcels measuring 1.7 acres and 22.2 acres), 18.8 acres will be set aside as privately held open-space land to protect sensitive habitat and wildlife corridors.
James and Helen Copley built a 15,400-square-foot house on the parcel next door and moved in in the mid-'50s. David Copley inherited the house, while the vacant parcel became part of the Copley Press assets. It went up for sale in 2009.
Theoretically, the land — listed for sale in 2009 at $22 million — is zoned such that up to 88 houses could be sited there, according to an article by Roger Showley. But doing that would require getting the La Jolla Community Planning Association to amend its assessment of the property as open space.
The history of the land, which includes neighbors encroaching on it, leads Johnson and his clients to believe that the development should be handled differently, he said. His clients live in the La Jolla Summit area overlooking the reserve.
"Turning over the protection of this sensitive land to private property owners is not a good idea," Johnson said. He had argued that the city's staff approved an inadequate environmental impact statement and that the owners should have looked for different places to put the houses, which are sited at the highest points for the best views.
The land is in the coastal zone and is considered environmentally sensitive land, a legal designation that sets a higher bar for proposing development.
"They never really looked at other alternatives to build that would have fewer impacts on the wildlife," Johnson said. "That is required under the California Environmental Quality Act.... The project was processed with significant effort to downplay the sensitive habitat and species there."
The project was approved by the city planning commission in November, and by the La Jolla Community Planning Association in 2014, by a 14-0 vote with one abstention. Johnson presented a map that showed how the reserve connects to nearby parks and open space, arguing that it is part of a significant wildlife corridor.
In Piazza's initial letters to the city, he suggested that the California gnatcatcher and the yellow-breasted chat, two at-risk bird species, as well as foxes inhabit the reserve. He submitted a letter saying that more than 70 species of birds had been seen in the reserve, as well as monarch butterflies, during the species' migration.
But the city accepted the notion that setting aside 18.8 acres of the land as sensitive habitat was enough and that building the houses high on the hill was appropriate, voting unanimously to approve the project. Johnson's clients have 30 days, starting January 26, to challenge the approval.