A project to build a 20-story residential tower next to the St. Paul’s cathedral on Sixth Avenue between Maple and Nutmeg won praise and criticism from the community Thursday night at a well-attended meeting.
More than 50 people came to review plans by Greystar Rental Construction and Development to use a permit — and possibly an environmental impact statement — for a 15-story tower on the west edge of Balboa Park, coupled with density and affordable housing bonuses to build the tallest building in the area.
“This isn’t height for height’s sake, it’s height to meet important goals,” said Omar Rawi from Greystar. “I would argue that if there was a site for a tall building, this is it.”
The building would displace the 16-unit Park Chateau apartment building and would be wider from east to west along Olive Street than the sides facing the park and the bay.
“It’s a beautiful design,” said Tom Mullaney. “I’d support it if it was at the 150-foot height limit.”
That height limit is a matter in hot dispute. Planning group members believe it’s a hard 150-foot limit, while the developer and his consultants disagree and see it as advisory.
St. Paul’s has partnered with Greystar and there’s support for the project from the congregations and neighbors. They have met regularly with the community — though they would not have to if they can use the old permit — and are keeping detailed updates on the parish website.
Of the 204 apartments now proposed (an increase from the 2011 plan that called for 65 condos), 18 will be for very low income residents, held at well below market cost for 55 years. The developer calculates that 18 constitutes 12 percent affordable units. The rest will be higher end, with about 30 studios, 92 one-bedroom, 78 two-bedroom, and a handful of three-bedroom apartments.
There will be a ¼ acre courtyard between the new building and the cathedral which may be a little breezy for pedestrians, Rawi said.
The ground floor will have some commercial space and St. Paul’s will gain 12,000 square feet of office and gathering space in the new building.
Developers are planning a multilevel parking garage beneath the building with 278 parking spaces. That works out to be more than one parking space per bedroom, 135 more than what would be required.
Retired Rev. Andrew Rank from the Society of St. Paul gave stirring support. “Cities are more than housing. Cities are more than baseball parks and cities are more than five-story buildings. Cities are vibrant, living organisms that are place of beauty, places that raise the spirits,” he preached. “That building, the exterior will celebrate the congregation having a 150-year presence in San Diego.”
But others looked at it and saw a monolith out of character with the neighborhood and developers taking advantage of height and density bonuses and an old development permit to push through a project distasteful to the residents.
“We’re destroying 16 units and putting in 18 so we’re not really gaining 18 low-income units, we’re gaining two,” said Nancy Moors of the Bankers Hill Community Association. “They’re not gaining what they got the (affordable housing) privilege for.”
Susan Fleming added that the developer wanted to be in the neighborhood without respect for the people whose work and presence made the area desirable.
“We’re the ones who provided the ambience the developers want to build around,” she said. “And they’re not listening to us.”
Over and over, residents asked for the height to come down to 15 stories – saying that their comments weren’t being taken seriously and applied to the project. But a St. Paul’s governing board member said it doesn’t work like that.
“You can’t simply chop off five floors and expect the project to pencil out,” said Marshall Moore from the board of St. Paul’s.