On Tuesday, Jan. 30, the City Council unanimously voted to deny the Peninsula Community Planning Board's (PCPB) appeal that a proposed development at the site be focused on open space. The board has promised to appeal that decision to the California Coastal Commission and must formally do so by Friday, Feb. 16.
According to Cynthia Conger, chair of the PCPB, the peninsula board is working to file its appeal to the California Coastal Commission. The earliest open hearing date for the matter is April 2007 in San Luis Obispo, according to Block.
On the seven acres of waterfront property in the northeast corner of the former Naval base The McMillin Companies, Liberty Station redeveloper, plans to create a business district with community access to the bay, called Ocean Village. For the board, the most contentious part of the project is that a large portion of the space is devoted to parking.
Conger claimed that both the city and the McMillin Companies have misrepresented their project in their presentations both to the City Council and to the board, a claim that both the city Development Services Department and McMillin have refuted. Conger argued that the project is not consistent with the community's Reuse Plan for the site, which would not allow for extensive parking by the shore.
"I strongly disagree with Conger that we misrepresented any facts," city project manger Cory Wilkinson said via e-mail. "That is a serious charge, as I take my job to heart and would not mislead a decision maker."
The main point of confusion regards the planning document that McMillin must follow while redeveloping of the area.
Wilkinson, representing the city, and spokesman Greg Block, representing McMillin, argue that the community's Reuse Plan was the initial guiding document that then evolved into the Precise Plan after recommendations from the Coastal Commission. The Precise Plan then became the overriding document.
The peninsula planning board disagrees. Its members believe that all changes should comply with the Reuse Plan.
"The Reuse Plan is the one that everybody believes is supposed to be guiding what goes on over there," said Geoff Page, a PCPB member who spoke at the City Council meeting.
Page said that McMillin alone created the Precise Plan without consideration of the community's desires.
According to Page, the Reuse Plan zoned the area for passive and active recreation, not a parking lot.
Wilkinson and Block countered that the California Coastal Commission rezoned the area of Shoreline Plaza into a commercial-regional zone, which does not allow for open space. And, Block added, the rezoning also changed the types of occupants desired for the buildings at Shoreline Plaza. Originally, McMillin had planned to house small offices for San Diego professionals such as doctors or architects at the Plaza, but the changes now require that the occupants have a visitor-serving purpose, such as restaurants and retail stores, which drives parking demand up.
According to Municipal Code parking ratios based on building size and use, private offices such as those initially intended for the site only require 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet, while restaurants require 15 and retail stores require five. With offices no longer welcome, such tenants will likely occupy Shoreline Plaza, making additional parking necessary.
Page said he finds it hard to believe that the Coastal Commission would want this prime waterfront property to be used for parking rather than park space, noting that the overlaid commercial zoning of Shoreline Plaza should never have happened because it does not comply with the Reuse Plan.
According to Page, the peninsula planning board hopes to clear up the confusion during its appeal hearing with the Coastal Commission.
"What we're asking [the Coastal Commission] for is their own interpretation of this claim by McMillin "“ this rather interesting claim that it was a Coastal Commission decision that is now causing the need for a parking lot on the edge of the water," Page said.
Parking has become an issue for the whole of Liberty Station. For example, the Rock Church, which expects to move its congregation of 8,000 from Kearney Mesa to Historic Decatur Road in August, will offer five services on Sundays, each with an average attendance of 1,000 people. And the new facility itself will have a capacity of 3,500. Page said the board does not challenge the need for more parking at Liberty Station, but it does dispute the claim that additional parking is needed specifically at Shoreline Plaza and has requested that McMillin build a parking structure at the 1,000-space parking lot located along Rosecrans Street in front of the Marketplace.
However, Block said he is not so sure that a structure is the solution to the board's problems with Shoreline Plaza.
"[A structure] may come another day, but it has nothing to do with this project. This project specifically serves this end of the base that needs parking," he said.
According to Block, McMillin will consider a parking structure after it has a better idea of parking demands.
Page finds that assertion unlikely.
"It was established at the council hearing that [McMillin] are the ones who have to pay for this parking garage," Page said. "Common sense tells you they don't want to do that if they can help it."
According to Wilkinson's presentation to the City Council, both Municipal Code and council policy state that parking is to be provided within approximately 600 feet of the designated use. Thus, the proposed parking structure would be too far away to serve Shoreline Plaza, even though it would alleviate parking issues in the residential area.
In contrast to the board's contentions, five Liberty Station residents and three Point Loma residents spoke in favor of the project at the hearing
"My belief is that most of us here want to see the project completed some time in our lifetime," said Joel Young, member of Point Loma People for Progress and Liberty Station resident. Many of those Liberty Station residents who commented at the hearing mentioned their dismay at the continued appeals and delays to the project.
The debate over parking shortages is not isolated to Shoreline Plaza. In fact, it has also become an issue among residents and the six neighboring High Tech High schools.
Young said that students and teachers take up spaces on the residential streets, which leaves him with no recourse. Meanwhile, High Tech High argues that it has gone to great lengths to avoid unnecessary traffic.
High Tech spokesperson Jed Wallace said the charter schools have talked with students and staff about designated parking, and have even gone so far as to stagger start times to reduce congestion in the mornings and afternoons.
"We've done everything we can to sort of mitigate traffic and parking challenges here at Liberty Station," Wallace said.
Though the larger issues related to anticipated parking shortages have yet to play out "“ Liberty Station is only 85 filled out "“ the debate over Shoreline Plaza promises to touch on concerns affecting the base as a whole.