Matt Potter 3:30 p.m., Nov. 20
Brown’s Mission Valley grading violation goes unreported by neighboring hotel magnate’s paper
Owners of San Diego's biggest newspaper and Mission Valley's biggest hotel complex hatch plans for development of flood-prone San Diego River
U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester and Atlas Hotels president C. Terry Brown - who is leading a Manchester-backed legal war against mayor Bob Filner – can be said to have at least four things in common.
Both are wealthy Republicans; both despise Democrat Filner; both run giant lodging and restaurant establishments here; and both are interested in developing big neighboring pieces of Mission Valley real estate owned by each immediately adjacent to the historically flood-prone San Diego River.
The first three items are well known, but few details of the two hotel moguls’ development plans in the environmentally sensitive river area - historically a battleground of wealth and power versus environmental and floodway planning – have been made available to the general public.
As noted here last May, Manchester's proposal to build a giant condominium and retail complex on the current U-T San Diego headquarters property was reported by the paper only after city planners posted a notice on the lawn in front of the building, setting the Internet abuzz with speculation about the real estate magnate's plans:
According to a "Posted Notification of Application" that has popped up on the front lawn of the newspaper's headquarters at 350 Camino de la Reina, the U-T wants to build "198 residential condominium units" along with 234,415 square feet of office space and a 6,470 square foot retail facility on the 12.86 acre site.
After the sign appeared, apparently prematurely, on its front lawn, the newspaper broke the story itself on its website this evening, saying the project would cost $200 million.
The U-T has also omitted details of the hotel interests' lawsuit against Filner, including how it is being paid for. Though the paper has been playing up Filner's use of a city-funded attorney to defend himself against the action, similarly detailed attention has not been paid to the money being spent by Brown and the small group of hoteliers who run the so-called San Diego Tourism Marketing District that is suing the mayor.
And while the question of whether City Attorney Goldsmith will represent Filner in court has not yet been answered, it's safe to say that the Tourism Marketing District does not have any concerns about how to pay for its legal expenses.
The district has access to millions of dollars that it has stashed into a "catastrophe reserve fund" since 2007. According to the published minutes from an August 15 meeting financial report, the Tourism Marketing District had $1.8 in revenues in the "opportunity/catastrophe fund."
U-T San Diego has been equally quiet about the Mission Valley relationship between Brown and Manchester, but a recent city report shows that the duo has at least one common interest there as well.
The Town and Country Hotel and Resort was initially developed in 1953, and by the 1970's contained 960 hotel rooms, a 58,000 square foot convention center and several restaurants.
The Atlas Specific Plan, processed by Atlas Hotels, Inc., the owner of seven sites within Mission Valley, was approved December 13, 1988, to guide the future development of their properties in the valley. The Town and Country 39.4-acre site was outlined in the Specific Plan to be a phased build-out of the site including 2,300 guest rooms, 229,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space, and parking for 3,680 vehicles.
The expansion and renovation would be developed over three separate phases of development, the first of which has been initiated.
But Brown's Town & Country hotel complex, just west of Manchester's U-T San Diego's headquarters, has long been in violation of city codes for illegally grading and paving a parking lot adjacent to the river, according to the document:
During the paving of the lot, dirt was removed and stockpiled adjacent to the bank of the San Diego River, a wetland resource. The applicant was issued a Notice of Violation by the City's Neighborhood Code Compliance, a Cleanup and Abatement Order was issued by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and an Enforcement Case was opened by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
After years of wrangling with officials, the hotel last month cut a deal to provide a way forward for future development. In order to grease the wheels at city hall and the community planning board, Brown obtained the services of Matt Peterson, the La Jolla-based super lobbyist who also works for GOP ex-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The issue, according to a report prepared for a February 20 hearing, was approval of a permit for Brown "to implement a restoration and enhancement plan adjacent to the San Diego River, to abate code violations after paving a 112 space parking lot within the Mission Valley Community Plan area."
In addition to addressing the violation, the document says, the deal includes a plan to connect the Town & Country and Manchester's U-T San Diego with a "river path," to be built as part of future development of the properties:
Because there is no development proposed with this project on the Town and Country site, only restoration and enhancement, the development of the river path is not required at this time.
The applicant, however, is required to record an easement with this action so that the path can be implemented in the future. The recreational easement will be approximately ten feet in width for an eventual five-foot wide pedestrian path.
The path will span from the existing footbridge that crosses the river to the eastern portion of the site, where it will turn south to connect to a possible future easement across the Union Tribune property.