SDUT: San Diego approves 20-story apartment tower in Bankers Hill

January 28 – San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick reports – The San Diego City Council unanimously approved a 20-story apartment building in Bankers Hill on Monday despite complaints that the tower would be too tall, destroy neighborhood character and cast long shadows on Balboa Park.

Council members said the 223-foot, 204-unit building would help solve the city’s housing crisis and reduce greenhouse gases, because the project is near transit, bike lanes and job centers in downtown and Hillcrest.

The council’s vote to approve an unusually dense project despite community opposition comes two weeks after Mayor Kevin Faulconer urged such action, contending “not-in-my-backyard” forces have worsened the city’s housing crisis.

Councilman Chris Ward, whose district includes the project, said Monday that it won’t single-handedly solve the housing crisis, but it will be one high-density development among many that can have a positive cumulative impact.

In addition to concerns about height, character and shadows, nearby residents complained the project is too close to an airport flight path, would damage views and wouldn’t include enough affordable housing units.

Ward, while conceding that the project “pushes the envelope,” dismissed each of those concerns as overblown, except the concern about shadows.

“The shadowing impact is a real one, but is that enough to say no to something,” Ward said.

Ward also criticized residents for raising concerns that the tower would set a precedent for skyscrapers along the park, similar to the buildings that surround Manhattan’s Central Park. He said those buildings are much taller.

The project’s developer, Greystar, says that most developers in the area will opt for shorter and wider projects because high-rises cost more to build. In addition, there are few available sites left for high-rises.

“The skyline in this area is set for decades,” said Omar Rawi, a Greystar official.

Rawi also said the height of the building makes sense in this case.

“Height can be interesting, height can be beautiful, height serves a purpose,” he told council members during a two-hour public hearing before the vote.

Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell said her vote was based primarily on the location of the project, an area long earmarked for high-density projects because of its proximity to downtown, bus routes and bike lanes.

“This is exactly the right area for this kind of building,” she said.

The project also got support from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign.

“If we only approve projects that make everyone happy all the time, we will never address our housing crisis,” said Stefanie Benvenuto, a policy analyst for the chamber.

Nicole Capretz, executive director of the climate organization, said this kind of project was what city leaders envisioned when they laid out a plan to reduce greenhouse gases by building dense housing near transit.

Councilman Ward, however, said he thinks it is likely construction will be delayed by a lawsuit he expects opponents to file on grounds that the developers did not adequately analyze the project’s impact on the surrounding area.

While residents have raised such concerns, they have focused more on the height of the building and the shadows it would cast.

Last week, several dozen residents stood in formation in Balboa Park carrying black umbrellas to show how the building would change the character of Bankers Hill and the park’s nearby recreation areas.

The apartment tower is proposed to locate next to iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral, at the corner of Olive Street and Sixth Avenue, just west of the park and a few blocks north of the El Prado entrance at Laurel Street. The tower would feature ground floor commercial space that would become home to the administrative offices for St. Paul’s, which is selling part of its property to Greystar to strengthen the finances of the 149-year-old church.

The project would include a five-level, underground parking garage, a rooftop terrace with a pool and other amenities.

It would also include 18 units reserved for people who earn less than 50 percent of the area’s median income: $34,100 for a family of one, $38,950 for a family of two and $43,800 for a family of three.

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