With the only objection to the project coming from an Arizona couple who spend their summers living at the Bernardo Shores Adult Community RV park, the Imperial Beach City Council voted 4-1 last week to approve the “Integral Communities” plan to develop the RV park into a 193-unit gated community.
The plan still has to be approved by the California Coastal Commission, which — like the Arizona couple — has expressed concerns over the loss of inexpensive accommodations in a city that seems to be moving away from its funky beach-town feel.
The spot is an odd-shaped ten-acre parcel at the bottom of the bay, on the inland side east of the Strand and just south of where the highway meets the bottom of the bay. There are houses on the east, a scrap of land to the north, and the wetlands and bird shelters of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge within quick walking distance.
The project, with its two- and three-story building of 190 condos and townhomes and three single-family homes, is expected to be priced from $350,000 and up per unit, according to assistant city manager Greg Wade.
The feature neighbors found most appealing is the developer's promise to build a bike path connecting the project from Highway 75 to the Bayshore Bikeway, letters in the city's development file said. The developers also plan to pay for the installation of the traffic signal onto Highway 75 that will help future residents safely enter the Strand from the proposed community.
Councilman Robert Patton, the only “nay” voter, said he thought the project wasn't as special as he hoped it would be.
"This is our gateway from Coronado to Imperial Beach," Patton said. "This is a prime bay-view location."
Patton also worried about the effect of traffic from 193 new homes — traffic that would end up on the 75 and Palm Avenue. And, he said, he worried that the homes would be purchased by investors and used as vacation rentals — which usually means partying, to the detriment of the neighbors.
Jim Stone, speaking for the Move Alliance, which screens projects for design that supports healthier and more sustainable communities, endorsed the project because it "facilitates the use of sustainable modes of transportation."
Stone pointed to easy access to public transportation and to garages that will be wired so people can charge their electric vehicles. (The Move Alliance has also endorsed La Mesa's Park Station project, which is facing fierce opposition from its neighbors.)
Even if the project is quickly approved, doors won't open before the end of 2016, according to Marc Perlman of Integral Communities. But the RV park — owned and operated by the same family for 38 years — will be closed to build the project. It now has 124 rental spaces that rent for about $60 a night or between $975 and $1045 per month.
"You will lose your longtime summer residents who support your local retail shops, restaurants, bars, hairdressers, auto repair shops, etc.," Debi and John Murtagh of Arizona wrote. "If you close the RV park, we will not be returning to Imperial Beach for our four-month summer residence."
However, the RV park continues to take reservations for the spring and summer ahead, the RV park manager said. And with good reason, according to Wade. "The developers are one big step closer, but there's still a major step ahead," Wade said. "The mitigated negative declaration still has to go to the coastal commission, and they've pretty well laid out their concerns."