At issue is developer McKellar McGowan’s plan to convert the former Mission Beach Elementary School into a condominium complex, with 18, three-story residential buildings of 51 units with a 74,362-square-foot floor area, 102 parking spaces and a pocket park.
Closed in 1996 because of declining attendance, the former Mission Beach Elementary School and its 2.23 acres at the corner of Santa Barbara Place and Mission Boulevard were sold at auction by San Diego Unified School District for $18.5 million in May 2013 to McKellar.
A lawsuit brought by a group known as Mission Beach Citizens for Responsible Development has since challenged the project, as well as the City Council’s 6-2 vote approving it in 2016.
The project’s density, its configuration and increased traffic potentially associated with it were among arguments raised against it by detractors.
Developers also proposed making a public park required for the project linear. Opponents argue the linear park is too small. They also fear it would be frequented by transients, not residents.
The condo project was also approved by the Coastal Commission in 2017, which made some adjustments to it.
“They increased the size of the park, resulting in the reduction of homes from 51 to 47,” said Chris McKellar, adding, “The modifications for the Coastal Commission we made months ago.”
Of project changes, McKellar said: “The modifications were requested by Coastal Commission local staff for the benefit of the dissidents. Interestingly, they then sued the Coastal Commission, despite what it’s staff had done for them.”
As originally proposed, the project called for constructing 20 buildings with 63 units split between duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, plus one single-family residence. If developers are successful, the long-abandoned school will be demolished to make way for three-story residential buildings.
Mission Beach residents opposing the condo project have retained high-profile environmental attorney Cory Briggs to represent them. Briggs said project opposition is unchanged.
“The bulk and scale of the houses remain unacceptably out of compliance with the zoning rules in Mission Beach,” Briggs said.
In excerpts from MCBRD’s lawsuit, plaintiffs argue that: “Even though the Coastal Commission’s final staff report addresses traffic impacts, it is completely devoid of any findings regarding adequate parking … This site is located within densely populated Mission Beach, which is already underserved by existing streets and public parking… The Coastal Commission's proposed size for the projects' pocket park does not provide adequate space for recreational use, and is therefore inconsistent with the City's General Plan.”
Previously characterizing McKellar McGowan’s condo conversion as “the biggest development in the beach community in the last 50 years,” the Mission Precise Planning Board opposed it, alleging it violates the community's Planned District Ordinance guiding commercial development.
Replying to MCBRD’s suit, City Attorney Mara Elliott, in excerpts, argues: “None of petitioners’ arguments are valid… The parties should finally be allowed to move forward in their efforts to provide critically needed housing in Mission Beach, activate a vacant lot in the middle of the community, and deliver a new 0.32-acre public park for residents and visitors alike… The park complies with the City’s General Plan, the Mission Beach Precise Plan and the Coastal Act.”
Mission Beach community planners insist the project takes liberties with 30-foot by 80-foot lot sizes, which have remained unchanged since the community’s zoning was laid out in the early 20th century by San Diego developer and sugar heir John Spreckels.