By Jonathan Goetz
Photo: Little Flower Haven circa 1954, via Postcards.com on City of La Mesa's website.
September 10, 2017 (La Mesa) - The hotly disputed Silvergate apartment development proposed at the site of the former Little Flower Haven convent is back up for a vote this Tuesday in La Mesa. The decision to re-hear the item comes under threat of legal action.
The Council deadlocked 2-2 in front of a Council chamber packed with nearby residents opposed to the parking variance allowing Silvergate’s 193 parking spaces for the 130 unit development instead of the 260 required by La Mesa municipal code.
Silvergate’s attorney sent a letter to La Mesa following the deadlock stating, “We request that the City Council immediately vote to reconsider your decision not to ratify the decision of the City’s Design Review Board (‘DRB’). If you do not, Pathfinder will immediately file a lawsuit. We believe such a suit would prove to be very costly for the City’s voters and taxpayers.”
The developer contends that the measure should be approved since it fulfilled requirements of a state density bonus that allows a waiver from parking requirements in exchange for the developer devoting 10 percent of the units to affordable housing.
That’s stirred up substantial controversy, with many neighbors contending there is not adequate parking already in this older neighborhood with single-car garages. Many residents spoke against the proposal at the last Council hearing and have voiced frustration in online forums against the state law that does not take into account the impact of parking waivers on surrounding neighborhoods.
Also up for discussion, in a subsequent motion, is the future of the Design Review Board, which recommended approval of this project on a 3 to 2 vote. If the Design Review Commission is eliminated, its duties would be shifted to the city’s Planning Commission. The agenda item is proposed by Councilmember Kristine Alessio, who voted for the Silvergate project due to the legal concerts, and Councilman Baber who voted against it over concerns about what he viewed as a conflict with Design Review Commission members.
The Design Review Commission is comprised of two city staff from Community Development and three outside professionals. The two La Mesa City staff members on the Board, Development Director Carol Dick and Senior City Planner Chris Jacobs, both voted for the controversial development. The Silvergate development would provide $20,000 in permit and impact fees per unit.
But some La Mesa residents have voiced concerns over eliminating the added layer of review for development projects currently provided by the Design Review Commission. One suggestion to avoid conflicts is to replace city staffers with citizens not affiliated with development special interests.