If/when all goes according to plan, the wrecking balls will be swinging into these buildings.
“The neighborhood isn’t crazy about this,” said Howard Wayne about the city’s suggestion to build up to 90 feet high on West Morena Boulevard.
Wayne heads the Morena Corridor Specific Plan subcommittee for the Linda Vista planning group. He said the triggering event for both the specific plan and a new residential project proposal was the two new planned trolley stations: one to be located on Tecolote Road at West Morena Boulevard (in Linda Vista) and the other on Clairemont Drive at Morena Boulevard (in Bay Park). The Clairemont planning group is also involved, as the Morena Corridor plan involves both planning areas.
The green roof (top center) is Armstrong's.
Wayne relayed his understanding of the proposed residential project on West Morena, between Tecolote Road and Buenos Avenue, where currently Armstrong’s Nursery, Toys R Us, Petco, and other businesses reside. Sandag now has possession of the Armstrong lot for the trolley project. Wayne also said the development could go down further than Buenos.
Wayne said that Perry Dealy presented a preliminary mixed-use concept to his subcommittee in December. According to Wayne, Dealy is a local urban planner who has been hired by at least 11 property owners on the west side of West Morena, south of Armstrong’s. The land owners have come together, as explained to Wayne, to sell their land as a single piece of property to a single developer.
One of the landowners represented by Dealy is likely Dan Floit, who was reported to have acquired the Armstrong’s and Toys R Us parcels in 2015 as part of a land exchange, a transaction often undertaken to defer taxes.
An image shown at Dealy's December 5 presentation
courtesy of James LaMattery, Berkshire Hathaway
Said Wayne, “Dealy showed pretty detailed buildings showing several buildings, including 90-foot towers, with well over 1700 residential units. There was less than one parking space per unit. The idea I guess being that people there will ride the trolley and won’t need a car….
“More housing is understandable, but that much density would overwhelm the area. Developers and landowners paint these beautiful pictures without discussing the downside. We took a straw vote at the December meeting; the community and the committee voted to keep the height limit as a top priority. The landowners voted for no height limit.” Wayne said the city would prefer no height limit also.
A reliable source at the city said, “I understand completely why neighbors to the area are being vigilant, especially when there is a business interest with a preliminary plan in hand, but nothing of this nature can happen until it is rezoned. It has not been rezoned.”
Current zoning for the land is IL-3-1 (baby blue area).
According to a city zoning map, the area is zoned for IL-3-1. Municipal code designates this zone for a mix of light industrial, office, and commercial uses.
The city source continued, “It is not unusual for a landowner to shop around an idea, try to garner support for it, then try to get a rezone which will accommodate their plans. Getting a rezone is a big deal and requires a community plan amendment at a minimum. A community plan amendment usually takes several months at a minimum, longer if it requires further environmental review.”
According to Wayne, Sandag is currently involved in an eminent-domain lawsuit over part of Jerome’s parking lot.
“It’s not about taking it, it’s about what price Sandag will pay,” said Wayne. “Jerome’s wants the payment as if it were zoned for a large residential project, but Sandag is basing their offer on what the current zoning is.”
According to February meeting notes provided by Sandag, it looks like an offer of $1.4 million (see page 243) was offered to Jerome’s (Navarra Morena Properties) in 2015.
Wayne said he hasn’t seen the entirety of the plan but did say the city is suggesting to up-zone the approximately 20-acre lot to accommodate 1700+ residential units. Wayne said the lot is currently zoned for up to 29 residential units per acre — the city wants it closer to 79 units per acre.
Wayne also said that Sandag made a presentation in January telling Wayne and his Overlook Heights neighbors (part of Linda Vista) they could just walk to the trolley station. “It’s a very steep hill, I’ve never once seen a bicyclist go up that hill,” said Wayne. “It’s not going to work for my neighborhood, and to what extent the trolley will be used by the possibly 5000 new residents [living in 1700 units], that’s hard to say.”
More density might also make driving to the trolley station a challenge for Wayne since he said that the only way out his neighborhood is on Morena Boulevard.
“The bottom line with the trolley, if you’re going where the trolley is going, it’s great, but it only goes to some places. Trying to make a trolley work in San Diego — a city that grew organically, particularly after WWII with widespread car ownership and influx of people, instead of along a trolley line — it’s difficult to make it work….
“We are very close to Friars Road, where the trolley has been for a long time and the houses there are packed very densely and Friars Road has a ‘level of service’ of F — which is the lowest [report card indicating quality of traffic flow]. So putting a trolley in and adding very dense housing has not made Friars Road any easier to navigate. We don’t want that to happen on West Morena.”
As far as the governor’s plans to take density control away from local governments, Wayne said, “I only have second-hand news, but what I understand is that big cities have fought back and that’s why he hasn’t been able to get his bill through. Zoning goes to the heart of what a city does.”
In lieu of any landowners calling me back, I talked to employees of businesses on this West Morena lot to see what they knew. An employee of Armstrong’s told me they’re probably moving in May to a nearby location. No one at Toys R Us (local or corporate) had anything to say. An A-1 Self-Storage employee said, “We’re staying put. If towers are built, we’ll just build a gate to separate the facility.” An employee at Petco said, “I’ve seen the plans and the only stores confirmed for demo are public storage, Armstrong’s, Jerome’s, and Anderson Lumber.” A Cole’s employee said, “We are self-contained, but we expect to be made an offer. We aren’t involved in anything yet. It’s all speculation at this point.”
As far as residents in the area, some are opposed to change, while others are embracing it. But the one thing that seems to be a constant is not wanting to see anything close to 90 feet in the area.
The grassroots community organization Raise the Balloon has plans to meet in the Jerome’s parking at 1190 West Morena on April 22 to raise a huge red balloon to 90 feet in protest.
According to Sandag's Helen Gao, the agency will take possession of the Jerome's and Armstrong's property this summer or fall. They plan to use it for a "laydown and staging construction area" for the trolley project. Construction is set to begin in 2018 or 2019.