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Preservation group Save Our Heritage Organisation has filed suit in Sacrament Superior Court in order to block Caltrans from auctioning off its former Old Town office complex to the highest private bidder. The group alleges that Caltrans violated the California Environmental Quality Act in its environmental impact report on the building, and also in failing to provide alternatives to the scheduled auction later this month.

Bruce Coons (pictured), executive director of the Organisation, along with Old Town Chamber of Commerce president Fred Grand and Old Town Family Hospitality Group president Chuck Ross, said they felt blindsided by the decision.

“The Old Town community was promised that after the new facility was completed (in 2006) the old building would transfer to the state park,” Coons told The Daily Transcript.

Ross pointed out that the park system was so secure in its assumption that it would take control of the 1950s and 1960s era structures that $7.5 million had been earmarked for site cleanup. According to Grand, not only do the buildings contain asbestos and lead paint, a petroleum plume runs beneath the site, which is also subject to soil liquefaction and other seismic issues due to its proximity to the San Diego River. Plans now call for the eventual buyer to pay for the cleanup.

“I don't even know if there is a developer who would want to build on this site,” Ross says.

Perry Dealy of Dealy Development, who has been following the site for many years, says that it could be tough to make a redevelopment project pencil out, given the economic climate and various aforementioned issues. He believes any successful project would feature mixed-use development, including residential units, retail, and possibly a boutique hotel. He also believes there is potential for a link to adjacent state park land.

Coons, noting the historical significance of the site as part of an early Native American village and its proximity to the river that initially led to the location being chosen for the original town, believes some acknowledgement of the site’s past, possibly including an open green space, would be appropriate.

Ross, whose Hospitality Group runs the Fiesta de Reyes, agrees, noting that the annual visitor count at Old Town State Park of approximately 6 million justifies a grand entryway for the space.

Unless Save Our Heritage Organisation is successful in securing the court injunction it seeks, the property is scheduled to go to auction February 23, with an opening bid of $4.5 million.

photo source: dsoderblog.com

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