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CarMax takes over National City jungle from homeless and birds

Will southwest flycatcher, gnatcatcher, and least bell's vireo move to re-aligned channel?

CarMax's location across the street from the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall will draw shoppers from all over the South Bay.
CarMax's location across the street from the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall will draw shoppers from all over the South Bay.

One of National City's last open space parcels will make room for a used car dealership, displacing a homeless camp and endangered birds that depend on the wetland habitat along the Sweetwater River.

Over the years, the zoning of the 15-acre plot, so thickly vegetated it was nicknamed "the jungle," went from open space to major mixed use. Developers, however, have slammed into delays over environmental concerns.

Now, in a 4-1 vote, the city has approved the final environmental impact report for a CarMax, a zone change, lot split, code amendment and conditional use permit.

The lot split will divide the 15-acre site to squeeze in the CarMax on Plaza Bonita Road.

When the proposals began in 2003, the county had placed an environmental overlay on the land, indicating a location with significant vegetation that needs to be protected.

The built-out city is running out of that kind of space, and most of it has been disturbed. Less than three percent of the city's land is vacant, while most of its waterways have been channelized, or located in underground pipes, offering little scenic value or wildlife habitat.

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In 2007, the city approved a Costco and gas station on the parcel that "never came to fruition," city planner Martin Reeder said.

Four years later, the land, which is owned by the National City parking district, was rezoned from open space to major mixed use, allowing homes and businesses to co-exist. But the pedestrian-oriented zoning was not to last.

CarMax was next to apply in 2016, and residential uses were out. The planning commission recommended the latest zoning change to service commercial and open space. The lot split will divide the 15-acre site to squeeze in the CarMax on Plaza Bonita Road and leave a slightly larger slice of open space for wildlife.

But the homeless will have to move out, which is something the city has hoped to facilitate with new development. According to city reports, there were 99 calls for service reported by the Police Department since January 2020, nearly half related to fires.

Vice mayor Jose Rodriguez said they expect to hear more next month about the Rescue Mission's plan to open a homeless shelter in National City, which now has none.

Native birds and trees will lose about half their space to make way for the 7.19-acre car dealership and its service building, non-public carwash, parking and sales lots, driveways and landscaping.

To try to make up for the cement jungle that will overtake "the jungle," project managers will reroute more than 2,000 linear feet of an unnamed creek by building an earthen channel around the car dealership.

This realigned channel and a stormwater detention pond is where habitat restoration will occur, planting native riparian trees and vegetation on the remaining 7.89 acres.

To help offset lost wetland habitat, smaller restoration projects will be planted offsite, said Nick Larkin, a consultant who worked on the report.

"There were several species that were called out" in the environmental report, Larkin said, mentioning the southwest flycatcher, gnatcatcher, and least bell's vireo, all federally endangered birds.

Audubon, Coast Law Group and U.S. Fish & Wildlife have voiced concerns about the project, which has undergone numerous revisions. The major holdup has stemmed from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, worried about impacts to the riverbed.

The business is expected to generate 65-85 full- and part-time jobs, bring in at least $1 million in sales-tax revenue a year, and because of its location across the street from the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall, draw shoppers from all over the South Bay.

Councilmember Marcus Bush, the lone vote against the project, objected to the loss of one of the last parcels of natural open space. "The reason why the county designated that is because it's part of a wildlife habitat corridor," he said.

"The other thing is, we're downzoning from mixed use to commercial. I would like to see us more forward thinking on projects like this."

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CarMax's location across the street from the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall will draw shoppers from all over the South Bay.
CarMax's location across the street from the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall will draw shoppers from all over the South Bay.

One of National City's last open space parcels will make room for a used car dealership, displacing a homeless camp and endangered birds that depend on the wetland habitat along the Sweetwater River.

Over the years, the zoning of the 15-acre plot, so thickly vegetated it was nicknamed "the jungle," went from open space to major mixed use. Developers, however, have slammed into delays over environmental concerns.

Now, in a 4-1 vote, the city has approved the final environmental impact report for a CarMax, a zone change, lot split, code amendment and conditional use permit.

The lot split will divide the 15-acre site to squeeze in the CarMax on Plaza Bonita Road.

When the proposals began in 2003, the county had placed an environmental overlay on the land, indicating a location with significant vegetation that needs to be protected.

The built-out city is running out of that kind of space, and most of it has been disturbed. Less than three percent of the city's land is vacant, while most of its waterways have been channelized, or located in underground pipes, offering little scenic value or wildlife habitat.

Sponsored
Sponsored

In 2007, the city approved a Costco and gas station on the parcel that "never came to fruition," city planner Martin Reeder said.

Four years later, the land, which is owned by the National City parking district, was rezoned from open space to major mixed use, allowing homes and businesses to co-exist. But the pedestrian-oriented zoning was not to last.

CarMax was next to apply in 2016, and residential uses were out. The planning commission recommended the latest zoning change to service commercial and open space. The lot split will divide the 15-acre site to squeeze in the CarMax on Plaza Bonita Road and leave a slightly larger slice of open space for wildlife.

But the homeless will have to move out, which is something the city has hoped to facilitate with new development. According to city reports, there were 99 calls for service reported by the Police Department since January 2020, nearly half related to fires.

Vice mayor Jose Rodriguez said they expect to hear more next month about the Rescue Mission's plan to open a homeless shelter in National City, which now has none.

Native birds and trees will lose about half their space to make way for the 7.19-acre car dealership and its service building, non-public carwash, parking and sales lots, driveways and landscaping.

To try to make up for the cement jungle that will overtake "the jungle," project managers will reroute more than 2,000 linear feet of an unnamed creek by building an earthen channel around the car dealership.

This realigned channel and a stormwater detention pond is where habitat restoration will occur, planting native riparian trees and vegetation on the remaining 7.89 acres.

To help offset lost wetland habitat, smaller restoration projects will be planted offsite, said Nick Larkin, a consultant who worked on the report.

"There were several species that were called out" in the environmental report, Larkin said, mentioning the southwest flycatcher, gnatcatcher, and least bell's vireo, all federally endangered birds.

Audubon, Coast Law Group and U.S. Fish & Wildlife have voiced concerns about the project, which has undergone numerous revisions. The major holdup has stemmed from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, worried about impacts to the riverbed.

The business is expected to generate 65-85 full- and part-time jobs, bring in at least $1 million in sales-tax revenue a year, and because of its location across the street from the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall, draw shoppers from all over the South Bay.

Councilmember Marcus Bush, the lone vote against the project, objected to the loss of one of the last parcels of natural open space. "The reason why the county designated that is because it's part of a wildlife habitat corridor," he said.

"The other thing is, we're downzoning from mixed use to commercial. I would like to see us more forward thinking on projects like this."

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