San Diego approves 37-story downtown apartment tower with almost no parking near Petco Park


A 37-story apartment tower near Petco Park was approved by the Planning Commission on Thursday, which will attempt a mostly car-free development in the heart of downtown.

The high-density 611 Island Avenue project of San Francisco-based Cresleigh Homes is rare downtown in that it is trying on a large scale to attract tenants in smaller apartments who would like to give up a vehicle. Although the city removed many parking requirements, most developers still decided to include spaces to attract tenants.

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The commission voted unanimously to approve the project. If the building is the subject of a call in the next 10 days, the city council will also have to vote on this. Otherwise, the developer is good to go.

“To our knowledge, a project of this size and scope with micro units has not been proposed before in downtown San Diego,” said Deana Ellis, Cresleigh’s vice president of land resources.

The project, 611 Island Avenue, will have 443 apartments with only 52 parking spaces for cars and six for motorcycles. Instead, he focused on space for 212 bikes and a “bike lounge” on the ground floor.

Several nearby residents objected to the project because they said they doubted many people would want to live car-free, which has led to a downtown parking nightmare, and even some planning commissioners questioned the developer’s success without parking. Ellis said Cresleigh is confident it will attract tenants, as will the investors/financiers of the estimated $233 million project.

Planning commissioner Kelly Moden said she also had concerns about the potential impact of the lack of parking on the area, but said it was a necessary step in the right direction.

“I think it’s justified in our new way of thinking and moving forward as a society,” she said, “with our reduction and reliance on car ownership.”

Another hiccup in the possible approval was the commissioners’ concern over the lack of rent-restricted apartments.

The project responds to subsidized housing needs with only 11 units as they are reserved for very low income residents, 30-50% of the region’s median income. This is less than many projects which are often around 80% below local revenues. For an individual, this means an annual salary of $27,350 to $45,550, to qualify for a unit at 611 Island Avenue.

Additionally, the development has fewer subsidized units than are required at many other downtown complexes, as it is considered a micro-unit project with an average size of 600 square feet per apartment. The law theory is that small apartments are “affordable by design”, as architects like to say. Or, in other words, because they are small, they are naturally cheaper and more affordable for residents..

Ellis said the project’s rent is expected to be 20-25% less than in the rest of the area. The average rent in East Village is now $3,007 a month, real estate firm CoStar said. The explanation of the micro-units and the anticipation of lower rents were enough to influence the commissioners who said they were concerned at the start of the meeting about the lack of low-rent housing.

Planning Commissioner Matthew Boomhower said he is excited about the project, as the city has long worked on developing a complex like this. The city eliminated parking requirements for residential complexes near public transportation (like all of downtown) in March 2019.

Despite opposition from some nearby residents over the height, at 430 feet, Boomhower said the location was perfect for a project of this scale.

“If you can’t do that kind of height density downtown, we can’t do it anywhere,” he said.

Much of the opposition came from residents of the nearby 179-unit Alta condo tower on Sixth Avenue. Alta resident Lane Larsen wrote to the commission that he had lived in Alta for 15 years and was concerned that the project was too large for the area.

“If you let go of this huge building,” he wrote, “(it) would drive parking and traffic crazy, and adding over 2,000 cars and people downtown is not feasible for the small space.” Although the project is not expected to have this many people, the consensus among many Alta residents is that at least some of them would decide to still have a car and park it downtown.

Still, the commission heard from many downtown business leaders, merchants from the nearby Gaslamp Quarter, and the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, which often champions pedestrian safety and alternative modes of transportation like the bike, who strongly supported the project.

Jesse O’Sullivan, policy adviser at Circulate San Diego, said he approves of the project because it helps with the city’s housing shortage, has ample space for bikes and is designed around environmentally friendly forms of travel. of the climate.

Planning Commissioner William Hofman was always concerned with city laws, not the project itself. He liked the project and voted to approve it, but said the city might want to review its laws that allowed a developer to only have to reserve 5% of rent-restricted apartments. Even with the “natural” cheaper rents in the micro-units, he feared the downtown area still needed more subsidized units.

The proposed 20,063 square foot site on Island Avenue sits between 6th and 7th Avenues and is across from Sempra’s corporate headquarters. It will take the place of Ballpark Self Storage. Cresleigh Tower is an L-shape that wraps around much of the Courtyard by Marriott. The developer said it was premature to guess how long construction would take. Additionally, it is unclear when construction can begin as the project could be appealed to the city council, potentially delaying it for a few months.

The Ballpark Self Storage site is considered a historic resource by the city. Built in 1929 by investment firm Klauber-Wangenheim Co., the four-story concrete and brick structure is considered an example of an industrial architectural style popular in the 1920s. Cresleigh changed plans to retain its historic facade while building the massive residential tower above.

Other features of the project include a residential lobby, a rooftop swimming pool with BBQs, lounging areas and a pet area. It will also have a very small commercial space, approximately 985 square feet, on the ground floor.

There are several nearby residential projects under construction: Jefferson Makers Quarter on 15th Street with 368 apartments; Broadway Towers E Street with 305 units; Framework on 13th Street with 87 units and Radian Apartments on 9th Avenue with 241 units.

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