Kettenburg: Revitalization of blighted area or farewell to rich marine tradition?
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 12/13/12 - 12:29 PM | 154370 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A view from the edge of the old Kettenburg Marine & Boat Works property.     
                                             Courtesy photo
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In late November, San Diego-based residential developer ColRich finalized the purchase of the storied 1.65-acre bayfront property bounded by Scott, Carleton and Dickens streets near the entrance to Shelter Island in Point Loma.

The site, which was the 65-year home of Kettenburg Marine & Boat Works until the business closed in 1993, continues to house marine industry businesses, including The Dinghy Doctor and Richard’s Marine Services — but not for long.

In 2008, developers acquired permits to construct a 40-unit collection of luxury condominiums including seven two-bedroom units, 29 three-bedroom units and four live/work commercial spaces atop a level of subterranean parking.

Proponents of the project say the new upscale condominium will transform a blighted area into a pedestrian-friendly treasure, attracting tourists to the stunning waterfront location, improving the economy by investing in the prime real estate and enhancing the attractiveness of its bayfront location.

“We feel it will add to the vibrancy of that immediate and surrounding area,” said ColRich COO Graeme Gabriel. “By raising the profile of the area, you have a greater investment by the community, you see a better environment for businesses, you see greater synergies and you see many more options for people — both for homeowners, renters and commercial users.”

He added that ColRich, a local, family-run development company, will work to complement the area’s intimate neighborhood feel, pedestrian-friendly lifestyle and idyllic waterfront location.

“It’s not just about building something, selling it and moving on. It has a legacy, so we’re mindful of that,” he said. “Our intention is to move very much in step with the overall majority of the Point Loma residents. We feel that if we do that, that is what will lead to a successful project there.”

Despite the promising notion, opponents of the permitted project contend that the new development will, in fact, displace a unique and longstanding marine industry that exists — and can only exist, opponents said — at its location on Shelter Island.

“That property is perfect for marine business,” said Point Loma resident Christy Schisler. “It’s going to be tough for them to find something that’s 120 feet from the waterfront to work.”

Breaking up the unique concentration of marine industry businesses in the area might just make the entire seafaring industry in Point Loma crumble, said Debbie Pedersen, a fellow Point Loman who fought with Shisler throughout the five-year process.

“I can’t imagine they won’t just go out of business,” she said. “Because this is so concentrated, everyone supports everyone else. It all perpetuates itself. Everything you need is right here. It’s really going to affect the economy, and not just these people, but sailors will not come to San Diego to get their sail repairs done. It’s such a one-of-a-kind atmosphere and really one of the only places on the West Coast like it.”

Five years ago, Schisler and Pedersen — both novices in the realm of community planning and permitting — boldly stepped into the complex world of land use policy with an aim to urge developers and community planners to protect the marine tradition that has existed on that harbor for decades.

What the duo discovered, however, was disappointment in the process and a lack of support from the marine merchants they say are most impacted by this project.

“I really tried to rally the marine industry. At a couple of community meetings, people showed up, but it was really tough a lot of times because there were just two of us at the Coastal Commission meetings,” said Schisler. “The marine industry needs to step up. They were horribly absent from this whole process.”

The ladies were also shocked by the system in which the permitting process took place — the fact that Coastal Commission meetings were all over the state and always during the day, the concept that developers had “all the time in the world” to speak and the public just three minutes, and the negative portrayal of the local marine industry folk.

Pedersen called her experience with the city like swimming upstream, battling professionals, city representatives and lawyers along the way.

Schisler agreed, calling the ordeal “business at usual” for the city and the California Coastal Commission.

“The ongoing disappointment for me, as a political neophyte of the San Diego city development system, is how the city’s development services department clearly works for the developers. Shouldn’t they be working for the community as well?” she queried at both organizations’ decision to amend the general plan to change the site from a marine industrial zone to a commercial-residential one in 2008.

Spirit of Adventure Charters owners Mike and Annemarie Keating also issued concern that their sportfishing vessel business, which has sailed in and out of H&M Landing for 27 years on late night trips, will suddenly receive noise complaints from the new neighbors.

“Most sport fishing trips leave between 10 p.m. and midnight. Bright lights, traffic, loudspeaker announcements and carts pushed up and down metal ramps are sure to cause friction between townhome owners and the sportfishing business,” the couple stated in an email.

Schisler, Pedersen and a handful of others in the area said they will continue to fight for the preservation of the marine industry in Point Loma on behalf of marine industry merchants. Now, with more of a handle on the process, they said they will continue with more gusto than ever before.

“The city needs to be taken into the spotlight and say why the city and Coastal Commission are allowing this to happen. All of these merchants are going to be displaced,” said Pedersen. “Condos can be built anywhere, but marine businesses can’t.”

Gabriel’s response to the ladies’ claims was that the project is, in fact, moving in step with the desires of a majority of Point Lomans.

“We are very mindful of the surrounding community, and we always feel that our best foot forward is working with the community as to what the overarching majority of the community’s short-term and long-term needs are,” he said. “The trends of the change in use of the area going from more of a marine industrial to commercial residential has been a long-term trend that was set in place long before this site was planned for redevelopment.”

For better or for worse, it is out with the old, in with the new. ColRich and real estate investment partner, Resmark, will break ground on the property starting in mid-2013.

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