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Proposed UCSD Hillel building stirs controversy on campus, in neighborhoods

City Planning Commission approved plans
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-27 16:26:39-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The City Planning Commission Thursday unanimously approved a plan to build a Hillel Jewish Student Center across the street from UC San Diego.

With the approval, the plan now goes to the full City Council for a final vote. A date for the vote has not been determined.

The 6,500 square-foot building will be built along La Jolla Village Drive, between Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Scenic Drive. Hillel already owns the approximately 1-acre parcel of land.

They bought the land in 2000, and in 2006, they received permission from the San Diego City Council to build.

However, a lawsuit derailed their plans for a 12,500 square-foot complex, forcing an Environmental Impact Review and a redesign.

Other lawsuits and opposition from neighborhood groups delayed the project for years. Now, Hillel is ready to move forward.

"Our students deserve to have a space where they can feel safe, where they can come together," said Rabbi David Singer, director of UCSD Hillel.

But not everyone wants the building. The group Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use has been leading the charge against the plan, saying Hillel's new building doesn't belong in a single-family residential zone.

"It's a student center in a residential neighborhood," said Dr. Bill Jones, with TRLU. "That's prohibited by city codes."

SLIDESHOW: Proposed site of the Hillel Jewish Student Center at UCSD

Hillel argues that they're a religious group, not a student group. When Hillel applied for the permits and bought the land, religious buildings were allowed in single-family residential zones.

"There's not evidence whatsoever that this building will be used primarily for religious purposes," said Jones.

Hillel disagrees.

"We're allowed here, by right," said Singer. "This is a religious center."

To make the building more suitable for the neighborhood, Hillel cut the size of the project almost in half, from 12,500 square feet to 6,500 square feet. They also split it into three buildings, and say the largest of the three won't be any bigger than the two-story homes already in the neighborhood.

They're also promising to use 10,000 square feet of the land to build a public park and to build a better bus stop near Torrey Pines Road.

"Our studies conclude, exhaustively, that the project will have zero impact on the neighborhood," said Singer. "Other than the positive impacts of being able to support our mission and beautify the area."

Parking is also a sticking point. The plans call for a lot with 27 spaces at the building. Hillel says with a 100-person daily capacity, that's more than enough for a student population that usually walks or bikes to their events.

Neighbors worry it will lead to increased traffic and more students parking on the streets.

"If it achieves their goal, there will be a lot of students here," said Jones. "It's just not right for a residential neighborhood."