A rendering of the Hillel Center planned for the UC San Diego area. Courtesy M.W. Steele Group
A rendering of the Hillel Center planned for the UC San Diego area. Courtesy M.W. Steele Group

A long-controversial plan to build a 6,500-square-foot Jewish student religious center across from the main entrance to UC San Diego received unanimous approval Thursday from the San Diego Planning Commission after a 17-year effort.

The Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center would consist of three small buildings amid park-like landscaping on what is now a vacant, weed-strewn triangle of land at La Jolla Village Drive and La Jolla Scenic Drive.

Dozens of people spoke for and against the project, which dates back to 2000 when Hillel and the city began discussions over use of the land. Plans were initially rejected by the Planning Commission, approved by the City Council, then reduced in size by half in 2009 following a neighborhood lawsuit.

Rabbi David Singer, director of UCSD Hillel, said the project had undergone “meticulous redesign to fit the scale and the character of the neighborhood” and added that he is convinced it will “improve, enhance and beautify the area.”

Rabbi David Singer of Hillel speaks to the San Diego Planning Commission. Image from video

Opponents argued that a religious center is incompatible with the single-family residential neighborhood, and will exacerbate traffic and parking problems caused by the university.

“There’s a large group of clients in the neighborhood who are opposed to this project,” said Julie Hamilton, who represents Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use, adding that many opponents are Jewish. “The issue with this is the use and the location.”

Neighborhood resident Ross Starr, a UC San Diego economics professor, said there was no dispute over the value of having a Hillel center near the campus, but this was the wrong location.

“Just say ‘no’ to institutional development in the single-family residential area of La Jolla Shores,” he urged the commissioners.

Commissioner Robert Hoffman, who introduced the motion to recommend the project, asked for one change — the addition of more bicycle racks.

“I think it’s an excellent transition use from UCSD to the single-family neighborhood,” he said. “I think it’s a very needed facility.”

Commissioner Douglas Austin said he believed the facility would buffer the neighborhood while eliminating an eyesore. “I think the community’s going to be happy to have it once they see it,” he said.

The project now goes to the City Council for consideration before a building permit can be awarded.

Hillel offers religious programming for Jewish holidays and festivals, programs relating to Israel as the Jewish homeland, Jewish community building and community service opportunities. It currently uses a home in the neighborhood.

Google Earth image shows the location of the project. The home currently used by Hillel is in the lower left.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.