Developer withdraws bid for Pacific Beach reservoir site, what’s next?
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 03/13/18 - 07:40 AM | 1885 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The 4.76-acre former PB Reservoir site on Los Altos Road in Pacific Beach.
The 4.76-acre former PB Reservoir site on Los Altos Road in Pacific Beach.
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Now that real estate developer McKellar McGowan has backed out of redeveloping the 4.76-acre former PB Reservoir site on Los Altos Road in Pacific Beach, what’s to become of it?

“There are a number of [other] parties interested in the property,” said Arian Collins, the City’s supervising public information officer. “Negotiations are continuing. We expect that they will wrap up in the next few weeks.”

The former developer’s plans to transform the recently demolished reservoir site into 21 single-family homes met with stiff neighborhood opposition.

“A couple of weeks ago we decided we did not want to fight the resolute Los Altos Road neighbors for five years,” said Chris McKellar, about his firm’s withdrawal from the project. “Apparently, the city has found another developer willing to give it a go.”

Soledad Terrace neighbors complained about a lack of transparency — and of being ignored — by the city, following the proposed sale last August of the reservoir site west of Kate Sessions Park to McKellar McGowan. 

One of those neighbors opposed to the bulk and scale of the McKellar-McGowan project was Greg Nelson. He said he was “a little surprised” McKellar McGowan withdrew from the project in the middle of negotiations with neighbors.

“They had modified their proposal, shown us a plan that had 16 homes on it,” said Nelson noting the downsized proposal “met with almost as much opposition because it was [still] excessive.”

What size housing project would be acceptable?

“There are those in our neighborhood who feel the site should not be sold, and should remain vacant,’ said Nelson. “It is the same rationale used in 1979-80, when neighbors asked the city to rezone the site to be like the rest of the neighborhood with 20,000-square-foot lots.”

Nelson reiterated the community’s long-held view that zoning should be consistent and uniform throughout with maximum 20,000-square-foot lots as the standard. He added the area is exceptionally woody and rustic, having been developed originally around the home of famed, early La Jolla horticulturalist Kate Sessions. 

Nelson noted there are other built-in limitations to developing the former reservoir site.

“It’s on a very tight road built in the ’40s, with no sidewalks,” he said. “When cars are parked on both sides, there isn’t enough room for both cars [to pass].”

Noting the city nixed Los Altos neighbors’ initial attempt to have zoning changed to a maximum of  20,000-square-foot lots years ago, largely because of the cost involved, Nelson said the issue is now being revisited.

“Fast-forward 38 years or so, and the issue is there [again],” he said, adding zoning remains a bone of contention between Los Altos and the city.

Nelson said the neighborhood’s take on the city’s reluctance to even consider a zoning change is “disregarding the welfare of our community in exchange for getting maximum [property] value, without regard to our neighborhood. It’s painful to see.”

Nelson added McKellar McGowan’s bid to purchase the property was in excess of its $8.8 million assessed value, adding, “I don’t know how much more the price they were offering to pay for it was.”

PB reservoir served as part of the city of San Diego’s water system for about 80 years. It was originally supplied by the University Heights reservoir, and the city’s original water treatment plant at El Cajon Boulevard and Oregon Street.

When the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant at Murray Reservoir was brought online in 1951, this gravity-fed system was updated with new pipelines and other infrastructure, rendering the PB reservoir obsolete.

The city opted to sell the 4.6-acre unused reservoir site last year, and retained commercial real estate brokers Jones Lang LaSalle for the task.

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