Peninsula planners debate affordable housing, North Chapel conversion
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 05/24/18 - 08:47 AM | 2866 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The historic North Chapel may be converted into a restaurant.  VICTORIA DAVIS / PENINSULA BEACON
The historic North Chapel may be converted into a restaurant. VICTORIA DAVIS / PENINSULA BEACON
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Spirited debate filled the Peninsula Community Planning Board’s May meeting as residents turned out to protest a proposed affordable housing development and a plan to convert the North Chapel in Liberty Station into a restaurant.

A five-acre, open-space site at Famosa and Nimitz boulevards, which recently had a makeshift pump track on it closed by the City, became a major bone of contention at the May 17 meeting.

Owned by the San Diego Housing Commission, the site is proposed to be developed into a 78-unit affordable housing project. SDHC reps told the group the project is in the preliminary phase, with tests ongoing to ensure the site’s viability for development.

During a 1 1/2 hour debate, citizens questioned whether the development would actually be affordable. Several argued what is really needed in the community is more public open space. One woman challenged the site’s legal standing, saying she couldn’t find documentation confirming the site was not meant to be left as open space in perpetuity.

An SDHC attorney countered that the agency wasn’t “hiding the ball,” noting the site was officially changed from open space to city ownership by a two-thirds public vote in 1956.

Any project traffic study not done while local schools are in session, reflecting higher traffic counts, would be “disingenuous,” argued one neighbor. Another complained affordable housing is a misnomer given “there is no rent control in San Diego.” Yet another decried the affordable housing project as unfair to local residents “who are invested in the community and whose property values would be negatively impacted by affordable housing.”

A  fourth person testified senior housing is a more serious housing need in the Peninsula. 

CPB board member Jerry Lohla defended the SDHC project saying, “This is quality stuff.” He argued there are many working families who would benefit from it.

Colleague David Dick warned residents to be careful what they wished for, noting if they turned down affordable housing on the site, “they might end up with [a less appealing] development like what’s occurring on Voltaire.”

Pointing out it’s been a year since the public hearing on the SDHC project, board member Don Sevrens suggested a public workshop be held to fully vet the public’s concerns.

PCPB voted to hold a special meeting about the SDHC site Thursday, June 7 at the group’s usual place and time in the Peninsula Library’s community room.

North Chapel

Following testimony from mostly church members urging PCPB to oppose turning North Chapel at Liberty Station into a restaurant, the plan group voted unanimously to do just that. 

Planner Mark Krencik noted the community has had a “passionate conversation” about the chapel’s proposed conversion. While acknowledging North Chapel is considered historical both inside and out, Krencik pointed out the chapel is also designated for “commercial use” in the NTC Precise Plan governing the former Navy base’s redevelopment.

From the audience, Ron Slayer noted the chapel is “probably the least altered of the buildings” in historical Liberty Station, which has strict rules against modernizing existing architecture. “All the wood furniture, including the pews and pulpit are in their original condition,” said Slayer. “This is a notable visual landmark.”

Noting the chapel was built right after Pearl Harbor and was used by servicemen before and after World War II. “We don’t need another restaurant,” Henry Garon said.

What we need to do is honor those sailors who fought for our liberty, some of whom did not return.”

Doug Prashant concurred with Garon. “This is sacred ground,” Prashant said. “By not preserving it as a chapel, we’re desecrating it. It really needs to be protected.”

“It’s a travesty,” said board member Don Sevrens of converting the chapel into a restaurant.

New board member Robert Tripp Jackson said “the train will have left the station” if immediate action isn’t taken to preserve the chapel and its furniture.

PCPB voted unanimously to send a letter to Liberty Station developers McMillin Cos. urging them not to redevelop the North Chapel and to allow parishioners to worship there until/unless another use for the site is determined.

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