A long-empty corner of Point Loma Heights is getting a makeover. A developer named Veritas Urban Properties recently broke ground on the empty lot at the intersection of Voltaire Street and Catalina Boulevard, a site that has stood empty for about two decades, attracting litter and vandalism, despoiling an otherwise up-and-coming pocket of the Point Loma penninsula.
A Chevron gas station that once occupied the land closed in the early 1990s — back when gas still cost less than two dollars per gallon. While the structures and underground tanks were removed at that time, the lot required extensive sweeping and several years' worth of soil testing to meet environmental regulations overseeing brownfield redevelopment — a process that consumed many years while the lot sat vacant.
Street-level view from across Voltaire St.
The property received approval for development several years ago, just in time to be impacted by the nation's adverse economic climate. Even while burgeoning local businesses such as the Sessions Public gastropub and To the Point Café and Bakery opened on adjacent properties, injecting new life to the neighborhood, the southeast corner remained empty, unused, and unkempt.
Located roughly a mile from the sand of Ocean Beach and just off an exit from Nimitz Boulevard, Point Loma Heights doesn't receive a tremendous amount of foot traffic, but as a point of access between Interstate 8 and the residential interior of the peninsula, this intersection does see its fair share of cars. The empty lot often caught the attention of Veritas co-owner Russ Murfey as he drove by.
From across Catalina Blvd.
Murfey says he and his brother Scott have been on the lookout for "cool urban infill sites," to develop together, and this one fit the bill.
"Point Loma has a lot going on and Ocean Beach is going through a renaissance," Murfey says. "It just seemed like a perfect spot." They bought the land last year and have embraced the land-efficient concept of mixed-use residential/commercial development, which has also been cropping up lately with projects in North Park, Golden Hill, and Little Italy.
The Famosa Townhomes, as the project is named, is being designed by Stephen Dalton Architects out of Solana Beach; Murfey Construction will do the building. It will include nine second- and third-story condominiums and more than 2000 sq. ft. of commercial space at ground level.
Construction is scheduled to finish next fall on the decidedly 21st-century structure, which will feature solar power, pedestrian-friendly walkways, along with outdoor seating attendant to the commercial space fronting Voltaire.
While construction may disrupt local life in the months ahead, neighbors and residents seem to be embracing the project and the positive long-term effect it will have on the neighborhood.
Kristen Keltner owns To the Point, which shares a property line with the Famosa project, and will likely bear the brunt of the construction zone's inconvenience. Nevertheless, she says the developers have thus far been considerate about their impact on her business. Even as she has erected new latticework to protect her café's patio seating from the heavy machinery next door, she anticipates the project will be a great improvement over the vacant lot, which “attracted trash and graffiti and was basically an eyesore."
Nearby resident Carrie Gray has been waiting for the lot to be developed for more than eight years, going so far as to walk over with her family on occasion to pick up trash in hopes of beautifying the space. She also expresses optimism about the change: "In general I am very excited and always thrilled about building our community and supporting small businesses of OB/Point Loma. We can't wait for the neighborhood improvement!"