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Height and density changes currently proposed would “not be in best interest of the city,” planning commissioners found


By Elijah McKee


September 8, 2022 (La Mesa) — Since 2018, Reza Paydar, the property owner of the palm-studded San Diego RV Resort in La Mesa, has been attempting to change the City’s zoning of the land so that apartment buildings can replace the RV park. The buildings would be among the largest La Mesa has ever seen. 

Yet this proposal to rezone the area, called the Alvarado Specific Plan, has yet to receive the City’s approval. With a resolution unanimously adopted at their September 7 meeting, the La Mesa Planning Commission denied the plan in its current form, a formality following the public hearing on the matter on August 17. 


However, as Paydar’s representatives made clear during the hearing, they now plan to appeal the decision to the La Mesa City Council for another chance at breaking ground. 


Like many California cities, La Mesa is currently grappling with how to best respond to ramped up State housing expectations. The Alvarado Specific Plan would enable multi-family units to be built on the property through a tailored zoning update, pushing the City to address the question of how much they can and should build, and where. 


Paydar, who owns and runs a commercial real estate conglomerate, applied for this change with a possible development project in mind, which would include around 900 units across four eight-story buildings. 


The property in question is nestled on 12 acres alongside the Alvarado Creek, and lies in between the 70th Street Green Line trolley station and Interstate-8. To Paydar’s team, this is a golden opportunity for “a transit-oriented development” in close proximity to an “under-utilized trolley stop,” as well as the attractions of the City of San Diego and San Diego State University, according to their proposal. 


Plus, Paydar’s presentation indicated the project would ease a portion of La Mesa’s housing goals with the large addition of livable units, improve the flood control of the Alvarado Creek, and enhance the surrounding roads. 


While the commissioners voiced optimism that a project like this could someday be completed at the site, they remained cautious to rush the zoning change that would set that up. They determined that the proposal was inconsistent with the General Plan and Land Use Policies in some ways that would, “not be in the best interest of the City,” according to the resolution


“The project would be a viable project,” states the resolution, “should the applicant continue to work with the City and staff to address concerns relating to height and density, to incorporate more detailed design guidelines and development standards, to include affordable housing in the project, and to conduct community outreach and encourage public participation.”


With these recommendations in mind, the applicant plans to present again at a City Council meeting, date to be determined. 


On top of these areas of concern, the commissioners cited how the applicant had recently withdrawn from a development agreement subcommittee, which was aiming to work out the kinks of the plan. 


To approve any “specific plan” for a zoning change, the City must feel confident in working with the update going forward. Hypothetically, developers could completely jump ship while the plan would remain and dictate how any future stakeholders could approach using the land — so the City takes extra care when considering these situations. 


“Whatever that document becomes, it’s owned by the city,” explained Commissioner Brianna Coston. She expressed how her prior excitement for the proposal was now a disappointment, seeing as it felt “like a draft” of a final document to her. 


“We can’t get clouded by this 10-yard line sense of urgency,” added Commissioner Jerry Jones at the August 17 hearing, emphasizing the need to take due time to weigh the options. 


Those from the public who spoke at the hearing included a current long-term resident of the RV park, who voiced concern over the communication of the project timeline and the notice given to the current residents. 


Other concerned neighbors gave comments as well, each wondering how the plan would serve La Mesa residents. Their issues raised included the visual component of an eight-story building, the proximity to small residential neighborhoods, the families who would be displaced by a new development, the developers being from out of town, and whether or not SDSU needs more housing. 


The Alvarado Specific Plan is not the first large-scale development to face opposition in La Mesa. The attempt at the mixed-use 18-story complex termed “Park Station” eventually gave way to the more modest “Jefferson La Mesa" apartments at the corner of Baltimore Drive and University Avenue. The former sought a zoning change, like the Alvarado Specific Plan, while the latter did not need such a change. 


Paydar and his representatives seek to avoid a similar fate of Park Station, and will now turn to the City Council to grant approval. At the August 17 hearing, a spokesperson for Paydar claimed that the City’s staff report on the matter did not factor in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) the applicant had completed, and that the EIR in fact countered many of the commissioner’s concerns. 


They also raised the issue that the applicant has allegedly paid over a half million dollars to the City in processing fees, yet had not received comments on the proposal in two years. They sought to convince the Planning Commission to fulfill its State housing compliance by accepting their plans, or face potential legal trouble. 


Aaron Amerling, a resident concerned about the intentions of the applicant, doubts the City Council will take a different stance than the Planning Commission. 


“The key to remember is this is a specific plan, not a project,” wrote Amerling in an email to ECM. “All the things they say that they may build are irrelevant.” 


“Right now, this is basically asking for a blank check with no guarantees of anything that could be built,” he continued. “They can build an eight-story Walmart, or thousands of student dorms, or a single mansion. That's the issue — this isn't about a project because the project is not real, the project is just pretty pictures. It's about zoning, and only zoning.”

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