The La Mesa Planning Commission on June 7 was scheduled to consider approving a special permit for Silvergate Development’s conversion of Little Flower Haven, a Catholic retirement home that closed in 2015, into a 130-unit apartment complex. Instead, the City of La Mesa sent a June 1 mailing with the message “CANCELLED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE” in red letters on the public-hearing notice. “The applicant requested the project hearing be postponed in order to consider alternatives addressing the parking concerns from the neighborhood,” community development director Carol Dick said in a June 5 email.
The notice listed the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus as the applicant for the 4.09-acre-parcel located at 8585 La Mesa Boulevard. Little Flower opened in 1938, according to the Carmelite history of the facility. It was named for St. Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite known as the “Little Flower.”
Little Flower Apartments will consist of 67 one-bedroom units, 56 two-bedrooms, and seven studios, according to Silvergate’s website. The start date is October 2017 for the project valued at $35 million.
The permit would allow a 25 percent reduction in parking (La Mesa requires two spaces per unit) and increased building height. Approval would result in 195 parking spaces for residents and guests and three-story heights for two of seven buildings.
When I interviewed Silvergate principal Ian Gill on March 1, he said Silvergate and Pathfinder Partners hadn’t closed escrow for the “around $6 million” purchase. Gill said in a June 6 email, “We have not closed escrow on the purchase, and it is Silvergate and Pathfinders policy not to comment on discussions which are ongoing with the City. We will be pleased to answer your questions at a later date when we have determined a course of action which will enable the project to proceed.”
Planning commissioners were scheduled to vote on a draft mitigated negative declaration, a document that included a traffic-assessment letter from Chen Ryan Associates of San Diego.
The document review period ended June 3 and drew 62 comment letters, Dick said. The four supporters included Christine LaMarca, who owns and manages apartments for the Kevane Company. Insurance agent Kristine Avram wrote, “The plan incorporates the nostalgia of keeping the old history of La Mesa with the new La Mesa.”
Most commenters objected to reduced parking. The Chen Ryan letter stated the mix of studio, one and two-bedroom units meant 195 spaces “will incorporate more than 1 space per bedroom.”
Chen Ryan said there were 81 spaces on La Mesa Boulevard between University Avenue and Glen Street. "Based on field observations, "the occupancy rate of spaces was 50 percent during the day, with demand generally concentrated around the commercial areas at each end of the corridor.” Evening and night occupancy rate was around 20 percent.
Architect Lisa Kriedeman’s letter included petitions from La Mesa Boulevard business tenants and Schuyler Avenue residential tenants. Petitioners said there “are already difficult parking problems.” Kriedeman suggested that the developer build a parking garage or limit landscaping and recreation and use that land for parking.
Chen Ryan and residents referred to the Porter Hill neighborhood north of La Mesa Boulevard. Chen Ryan’s parking counts included three residential streets. Rosehedge and Randlett drives are across from Little Flower. Porter Hill Road is .3-mile to the west.
The count on Rosehedge was 21 cars at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 7. Randlett Drive resident Charles Perkins said he counted 35 cars on Rosehedge at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2. “It was clear that few if any cars belong to residents.”
Other residents wrote about the lack of sidewalks. There’s no sidewalk in front of the historic Roach-Porter house on Porter Hill Road, and a sign advises people to “DRIVE LIKE YOUR KIDS LIVE HERE.”
Furthermore, Chen Ryan said Little Flower is “directly adjacent” to Metropolitan Transit System Route’s 1 bus stop. The project “intends to enhance this stop” by increasing “amenities” and “incorporating it more into the project frontage." In the lobby, schedules, maps, and timetables will “help encourage” residents to use public transit.
Citing a 2013 figure of eight to nine passengers at the Little Flower stop, Chen Ryan said a 38- passenger bus "should be more than enough capacity … to accommodate” the project.
Chen Ryan said the La Mesa Boulevard transit center is a half-mile away. Darla Gonzales of DG Salon wrote, “In East County, generally people do not use mass transit.”