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— Developer writes persuasion letter to the San Diego Development Services Department. What else is new? Read on.

"Today I was brought into the fold on the neighborhood uprising regarding the Kensington Terrace project," stated Jim Chatfield in an October 30 e-mail to Anne Jarque, the project's manager for the City. "As a real estate developer, one would certainly surmise that I am pro-development, which is generally true. However, upon [review], I am quite surprised to find that the City and the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee approved this project with such little community interaction, and [after only] performing a mitigated negative declaration. This is especially alarming given the seemingly obvious significant impact on Adams Avenue, the adjacent streets, and [the] neighborhood as a whole."

Chatfield, a Kensington resident, is vice president of construction for John Moores's JMI Realty, which in 1998 received rights from the City to develop Petco Park, hotels, condominiums, and retail space on 26 blocks in East Village. Local residents, artists, and small business owners fought the plan vigorously -- and unsuccessfully. But redevelopment, it was said, would help remove extensive "blight" and drive out the homeless population. Then there was the counterargument. It ran: The homeless who leave downtown will flock to peripheral communities. Opinions are mixed as to whether that has finally happened.

Chatfield's e-mail continued as follows. "As I'm sure you know, Kensington residents possess a strong sense of community and pride, partially generated by our bond over a beautiful haven adjacent to a challenging area (El Cajon Boulevard) and a major interstate (I-15). By allowing [the Kensington Terrace] project to proceed in its present form, you jeopardize the charm, tranquility, and above all, safety of this neighborhood. Additionally, Adams Avenue could transform from a pedestrian friendly street into a region serving, transient thoroughfare."

Chatfield seems to mean "transient" in the widest sense. But the word's suggestiveness may not be accidental. A new grocery store in the Kensington Terrace project is a possibility. As things stand now, it would be one of the closest to El Cajon Boulevard in that corridor. Could pristine Kensington become strewn with abandoned shopping carts? A fear about Kensington Terrace among some local residents is that its traffic effects will include movement back and forth from the "challenging" City Heights area. To understand this, consider the history and nature of the project.

The plan is first mentioned on the agenda of the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee for its September 2006 meeting. At that time, the plan, by architect Allard Jansen and Associates, was "to construct 14 residential for-rent units and 28,344 square feet of commercial space on a 0.47 [acre] site." That site is the location of the Emerald gas station, at the northeast corner of Adams and Marlborough Drive. The station has long been considered out of place and an eyesore, a sign of Kensington blight for many neighbors.

Over ten years ago, Jansen built a small development across the street, at the northwest corner of the intersection. Starbucks, Century 21, and several upstairs apartments are housed there. Was he then planning to buy the Emerald gas station site? And does he, wonders Kensington resident Maggie McCann, "already have designs on several vacant Adams Avenue properties on the south side of the street?"

Would that, I ask, be too much in the hands of one developer? "I don't know," says McCann, "but we don't want another Hillcrest going up here in Kensington."

On November 30, 2006, the City sent a Notice of Application to all residents within 300 feet of Jansen's project. McCann tells me that then, over a series of Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee meetings, the full nature of the project unfolded in piecemeal fashion. She tracked its mention in the committee's minutes. On December 13, 2006, another property owner, Rick Vann, announced plans to put up a "new 9-unit building plus 4000 square feet of retail" immediately east of the Emerald gas station. It would later be called Kensington Lofts. And could he get a variance from the 30-foot height limit -- to 35 feet? Allard Jansen then said he would report on the status of his own plans at the next meeting. When he did so, on January 10, 2007, he happened to mention that, by the way, he would be a partner with Rick Vann in the Kensington Lofts project. And the retail space there will be 4156 square feet.

Not until the April 11 meeting was a more extensive partnership mentioned. According to meeting minutes, "Allard Jansen reported that he had closed on the Emerald Gas Station property on March 31. Both that property, and the one immediately east, will be developed in a partnership." The partners also announced "planning [for] 108 underground parking spaces."

In the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee minutes for May 8, plans to do a traffic study for Kensington Terrace were announced. The study "should cover area [from] Aldine to I-15, one block each side of Adams." A revised Notice of Application for the project went out to residents within 300 feet on June 21.

On July 11, Jansen announced in the committee the full nature of Kensington Terrace as "a mixed use development consisting of 16,560 square feet of office, 16,515 square feet of retail, and 19,200 square feet of residential (9 for-sale units) on a 0.78 acre site." The project would now take up the whole block on Adams between Marlborough and Edgeware Road. It would need a height variance of eight feet over limit. There would be 118 parking spaces, though the project requires only 87. "Gas station to remain until permit in hand," according to meeting minutes. "Traffic study indicates new light needed at Kensington and Adams Avenues [a block west of the project on Adams] and a four-corner crosswalk."

From here on, accounts differ, with Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee members maintaining that residents were notified of the extent of the project and outraged residents denying it. The residents also say no meeting minutes have appeared on the committee's website. Maggie McCann writes that "around September 23, a resident distributed a flyer indicating that comments on the DRAFT mitigated negative declaration were due to the City by September 25." But the City sent the draft to only a selected group of individuals and organizations. Again, says McCann, "sometime in October a resident distributed a flyer that there was an agenda item [for Kensington Terrace to be discussed at an upcoming] Planning Commission meeting...to approve or deny the development permit for this project."

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