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Mars highrise opens Normal Heights to SDSU students

Students can bike down Fairmont to new Mission Valley campus

The Mars building will be the largest structure in the Normal Heights neighborhood.
The Mars building will be the largest structure in the Normal Heights neighborhood.

Normal Heights inhabitants are throwing shade on The Mars Project development coming into their neighborhood. According to artists' renderings, the art deco-inspired building will have a sheet-metal facade and tower seven stories high on Adams and 35th atop the old DiMille's Italian Restaurant site and the adjacent lot to its west, extending up to the alley on the north.

As I write this article, one- and two-story buildings are the norm here, with a couple of three-story developments that broke the status quo in recent years.

If all goes well with the permits and the city's approval, the Mars structure will stand 83 feet tall and contain 175 studios that are 500 sq./ft. apiece. There will be two 2500 sq./ft. spaces for a pair of businesses on the first floor; in the middle will be a 6000 sq./ft. common area. The 25,799 sq./ft. development will be the largest structure in the Normal Heights neighborhood, nestled between the 805 and the 15, south of the 8 freeway.

In March, a Zoom meeting ensued between the nearby residents, local business owners, Adams Avenue Business Association — and Seamus Garland from the INI Greenfield development company, leading the estimated 2-3 year Mars build.

A resident asked the developer how he went around the Adams Avenue height restriction of 50 feet.

Garland responded, "Under the current Complete Communities program, for doing x,y, and z, they (the city) gives you about a 35-foot variance ... [our] current project is 83 feet."

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Fiona D. said the complex would "ruin the value" of her condo, which is four properties away from the development site, and that it'll "block off all of the sun that I get, and my view" once it is completed. She then asked Garland, "Have you received your [building] permit?"

Garland responded, "It's in process."

Fiona continued, "OK, I think that a lot of us may not agree with that and may take you to task."

During the 90-minute public Zoom meeting, which was reposted on the YouTube and NextDoor apps, locals questioned the aesthetic of the art-deco homage structure and its size that appears "out of scale" with the surroundings. In addition, many nearby dwellers were concerned about the density and accompanying vehicle traffic the new development would bring.

And while business owners along the corridor are happy about the prospective 175-plus patrons and their roomies and visitors — they questioned if the same folks would hog up the scarce street parking from customers driving in.

Anybody that's trekked into the Adams Avenue Street Fair or — Adams Avenue Unplugged, which will transpire on April 30, can empathize with patrons and hyper-local residents scrambling for parking. And despite the new norm of ridesharing, street parking here fills up quickly during significant events, all the way to the houses by the north side cliffs overlooking the former San Diego Chargers stadium.

Garland gets it. He ensured the residents and one irate neighbor who the Zoom moderator had to mute — that he is "sensitive" to the parking issue in the uber-trendy neighborhood. Garland told the group he is installing 100 parking spots for the complex, despite "the only parking I am obligated to provide is for commercial and ADA," he continued — as that's "the way the current zoning works in that area, especially in the transit corridor." The parking spots will be in an underground garage and behind the structure; additional areas will be created to park motorcycles, scooters, and over 200 bicycles, which I'll circle back to later.

The developer is forward-thinking about the advent of online purchasing in 2025 when the development is slated to be fully operable. Garland said they would have two commercial parking spots for Amazon, UPS, FedEx, USPS, and other delivery vehicles. The new parking spots are critical. Gig workers who have delivered to residents and businesses along the Adams Avenue corridor between Kensington and the 805 bridge can attest to the lack of commercial parking spots in the two-lane thoroughfare. In addition, future Instacart, Grubhub, and Uber Eats drivers that will deliver food and beverages to the new building's 2000 sq./ft. roof deck sitting atop the seventh story will need directions to the elevator and an elevator code.

Rent will be $2,000 per unit; 13 of the 175 units will be allocated to qualifying low-income residents who'll pay a fraction of the rent.

According to Zumper, a website that connects property owners with renters, the average price for studios in San Diego jumped from $1595 in April 2021 to $1980 this month. Most of the residents were OK with projected $2,000 rent prices in 2025 when the complex opens up.

The 500 sq./ft. studios break down into two main areas. The first part is a 22-foot by 15-foot lofty-common area with giant windows stretching up to the nearly 10-foot ceilings. The second section of the space will be a smaller bedroom and bathroom area.

The Mars Project complex will face south towards the John Adams Elementary School, San Diego Global Vision Academy, Adams Recreation Center, Adams Community Park, and a daycare center. The neighborhood questioned Garland's implementation of 175 studios within the plan rather than larger and fewer units to accommodate the hundreds of families dropping off their kids across the street.

Garland explained that the "city of San Diego is incentivizing me to build smaller and more efficient." He added that in his past projects, including the Palatine in Bankers Hill and The Dakota North Park, amongst other projects, he's accustomed to building for a "younger professional demographic."

Michael from Uptown Bicycle shop, located on Adams Avenue, a block west of the Mars property, likes the notion of having more than 175 new neighbors. "I'm all for it, bro," he said to me on April 24. "We need more housing; it's a changing world."

Michael acknowledged many of their neighbors who drive dislike density and, "Many other people don't want to deal with traffic, especially in their backyard." But Michael isn't concerned with the incoming traffic as he and his buddies cycle to work.

And as I mentioned earlier, Garland has made extensive provisions for cyclists. For example, he said the new building would have bicycle storage for 25-30 bikes per floor with additional bicycle storage in both basements and an area with bicycle mounts so the tenants and their visitors can comfortably work on their bicycles.

Word on the Normal Heights' streets is that the new Mars complex will attract SDSU students who will attend the soon-to-be SDSU Mission Valley campus down the hill. The university students who opt to roommate with one another in the Mars building can hop on their bikes, head eastbound on Adams, and take the Fairmont Avenue bike route to the new campus. Google maps estimates this 3.9-mile bike ride should take about 18-minutes. Also, it might be a faster bike ride if the city builds a connector bike route from the SR 15 Commuter Bikeway at Camino Del Rio South to the new campus.

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The Mars building will be the largest structure in the Normal Heights neighborhood.
The Mars building will be the largest structure in the Normal Heights neighborhood.

Normal Heights inhabitants are throwing shade on The Mars Project development coming into their neighborhood. According to artists' renderings, the art deco-inspired building will have a sheet-metal facade and tower seven stories high on Adams and 35th atop the old DiMille's Italian Restaurant site and the adjacent lot to its west, extending up to the alley on the north.

As I write this article, one- and two-story buildings are the norm here, with a couple of three-story developments that broke the status quo in recent years.

If all goes well with the permits and the city's approval, the Mars structure will stand 83 feet tall and contain 175 studios that are 500 sq./ft. apiece. There will be two 2500 sq./ft. spaces for a pair of businesses on the first floor; in the middle will be a 6000 sq./ft. common area. The 25,799 sq./ft. development will be the largest structure in the Normal Heights neighborhood, nestled between the 805 and the 15, south of the 8 freeway.

In March, a Zoom meeting ensued between the nearby residents, local business owners, Adams Avenue Business Association — and Seamus Garland from the INI Greenfield development company, leading the estimated 2-3 year Mars build.

A resident asked the developer how he went around the Adams Avenue height restriction of 50 feet.

Garland responded, "Under the current Complete Communities program, for doing x,y, and z, they (the city) gives you about a 35-foot variance ... [our] current project is 83 feet."

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Fiona D. said the complex would "ruin the value" of her condo, which is four properties away from the development site, and that it'll "block off all of the sun that I get, and my view" once it is completed. She then asked Garland, "Have you received your [building] permit?"

Garland responded, "It's in process."

Fiona continued, "OK, I think that a lot of us may not agree with that and may take you to task."

During the 90-minute public Zoom meeting, which was reposted on the YouTube and NextDoor apps, locals questioned the aesthetic of the art-deco homage structure and its size that appears "out of scale" with the surroundings. In addition, many nearby dwellers were concerned about the density and accompanying vehicle traffic the new development would bring.

And while business owners along the corridor are happy about the prospective 175-plus patrons and their roomies and visitors — they questioned if the same folks would hog up the scarce street parking from customers driving in.

Anybody that's trekked into the Adams Avenue Street Fair or — Adams Avenue Unplugged, which will transpire on April 30, can empathize with patrons and hyper-local residents scrambling for parking. And despite the new norm of ridesharing, street parking here fills up quickly during significant events, all the way to the houses by the north side cliffs overlooking the former San Diego Chargers stadium.

Garland gets it. He ensured the residents and one irate neighbor who the Zoom moderator had to mute — that he is "sensitive" to the parking issue in the uber-trendy neighborhood. Garland told the group he is installing 100 parking spots for the complex, despite "the only parking I am obligated to provide is for commercial and ADA," he continued — as that's "the way the current zoning works in that area, especially in the transit corridor." The parking spots will be in an underground garage and behind the structure; additional areas will be created to park motorcycles, scooters, and over 200 bicycles, which I'll circle back to later.

The developer is forward-thinking about the advent of online purchasing in 2025 when the development is slated to be fully operable. Garland said they would have two commercial parking spots for Amazon, UPS, FedEx, USPS, and other delivery vehicles. The new parking spots are critical. Gig workers who have delivered to residents and businesses along the Adams Avenue corridor between Kensington and the 805 bridge can attest to the lack of commercial parking spots in the two-lane thoroughfare. In addition, future Instacart, Grubhub, and Uber Eats drivers that will deliver food and beverages to the new building's 2000 sq./ft. roof deck sitting atop the seventh story will need directions to the elevator and an elevator code.

Rent will be $2,000 per unit; 13 of the 175 units will be allocated to qualifying low-income residents who'll pay a fraction of the rent.

According to Zumper, a website that connects property owners with renters, the average price for studios in San Diego jumped from $1595 in April 2021 to $1980 this month. Most of the residents were OK with projected $2,000 rent prices in 2025 when the complex opens up.

The 500 sq./ft. studios break down into two main areas. The first part is a 22-foot by 15-foot lofty-common area with giant windows stretching up to the nearly 10-foot ceilings. The second section of the space will be a smaller bedroom and bathroom area.

The Mars Project complex will face south towards the John Adams Elementary School, San Diego Global Vision Academy, Adams Recreation Center, Adams Community Park, and a daycare center. The neighborhood questioned Garland's implementation of 175 studios within the plan rather than larger and fewer units to accommodate the hundreds of families dropping off their kids across the street.

Garland explained that the "city of San Diego is incentivizing me to build smaller and more efficient." He added that in his past projects, including the Palatine in Bankers Hill and The Dakota North Park, amongst other projects, he's accustomed to building for a "younger professional demographic."

Michael from Uptown Bicycle shop, located on Adams Avenue, a block west of the Mars property, likes the notion of having more than 175 new neighbors. "I'm all for it, bro," he said to me on April 24. "We need more housing; it's a changing world."

Michael acknowledged many of their neighbors who drive dislike density and, "Many other people don't want to deal with traffic, especially in their backyard." But Michael isn't concerned with the incoming traffic as he and his buddies cycle to work.

And as I mentioned earlier, Garland has made extensive provisions for cyclists. For example, he said the new building would have bicycle storage for 25-30 bikes per floor with additional bicycle storage in both basements and an area with bicycle mounts so the tenants and their visitors can comfortably work on their bicycles.

Word on the Normal Heights' streets is that the new Mars complex will attract SDSU students who will attend the soon-to-be SDSU Mission Valley campus down the hill. The university students who opt to roommate with one another in the Mars building can hop on their bikes, head eastbound on Adams, and take the Fairmont Avenue bike route to the new campus. Google maps estimates this 3.9-mile bike ride should take about 18-minutes. Also, it might be a faster bike ride if the city builds a connector bike route from the SR 15 Commuter Bikeway at Camino Del Rio South to the new campus.

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Comments

You failed to mention that at the April meeting of the Normal Heights Community Planning Group, with over 100 community members present, the board voted to oppose the Mars Project as currently planned. The city council rep confirmed that the site is NOT in a Transit Priority Area and as such does not qualify for any of the height, parking, and impact fee waivers that the developer is trying to capitalize on. The rent listed in the article is incorrect, $2K/month is for some of the 13 "affordable" units, the other 162 "market-rate" units will cost much more than that. This is not the right project for this community. Seamus Garland needs to #FollowTheRules and work with the community. We support density and development, we support Smart Growth, this project is not that. https://sites.google.com/view/nh-mars

April 27, 2022

This article is so poorly researched and biased, that it appears the 'journalist' is in the back pocket of the developer. The fact that the developer is only making 500 sq foot studios ACROSS THE STREET from an elementary school - it's not that he has been incentivized by the city, it's that he found a loophole (I guess in his eyes that is an incentive, which gives you an idea of what type of developer he is) in the code where he can skip out on millions of dollars in infrastructure fees if the unit(s) are 500 sq feet or less- meanwhile those impacts on the infrastructure (e.g. sewer system) are still occurring, just passed on to the taxpayer to bear the burden as the developer gets richer. The neighborhood needs housing that supports its diverse make-up, not a monolith of small overpriced studios that only serve to maximize profits and line the pockets of the developer.

April 28, 2022
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