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LA MESA -- After years of study, probing of environmental issues and efforts to familiarize the community with its intentions, the promoters of the Park Station Project begin the process Wednesday night of trying to win city approval for what would be among the largest development projects of its kind in La Mesa history.
Park Station promoters will be appearing before the city's Planning Commission, asking that the panel agree that this project should be granted a special status that would allow it to deviate from the current height and density rules that currently apply to that area.
In asking the Planning Commissioners to approve a unique Park Station Specific Plan, the project promoters are asking that the city's zoning requirement be suspended for this project, allowing 110 foot towers in an area where the current height requirement is 46 feet. They are also asking for higher residential density of 416 units or 500 hotel rooms (not both) and reduced parking requirements that reflect its location along the MTS Trolley line.
Wednesday night's hearing, which occurs in the Allison Avenue council chambers, is the most significant public step since the Kitzman family, the owner of the development site along Baltimore Drive, first proposed redeveloping the underused lots in May of 2008. The project initially was proposing 190 foot residential or hotel towers, but the scope of the project was scaled back through a prolonged Environmental Impact Study, which is also a subject of Wednesday night's proceedings.
The project was initially met with some skepticism in a city that clearly sees itself as a largely single-family home community. Residents raised concerns about traffic and the eclipsing of sight-lines from homes located on surrounding highlands.
But at the same time, the Kitzmans, a local family and business owners, have quietly bankrolled an effort to meet with local residents to hear their concerns and share with them the benefits of redeveloping what has largely been an eye-sore entrance to the city for decades. Public relations firms have arranged dinners at local restaurants to discuss the fiscal needs of the city as well as sharing with residents the potential impact a healthy, mixed-use project could have on the city.
The five-acre site also includes a structure that now houses a combined American Legion VFW organization and would require major reconstruction of the streets, sewers and other infrastructure around and underneath this land.
For a city that until just recently was projecting deficits in its general fund, the addition of a multi-million dollar project has some strong positives. Increased sales and property taxes could be key to the city's future. Such increased "density" projects along trolley and bus lines also have the general support of regional planners who want to discourage increased suburban, automotive-dependent sprawl.
But La Mesa remains a small city in many ways. Just 60,000 or so residents who have taken pride in keeping its nine square miles distinct from its more urban neighbors to the west and south.
The Planning Commission hears the property-owners petition and decides whether to approve, reject or send the project back for revisions. Ultimately, any deviation from current zoning laws is decided by the City Council.
That step could still be months away and there is always a possibility that litigation could occur if a property owner believes their property rights are being unduly restricted.
Once the property-owners and the city determine what type of development will be allowed, developers can be sought to propose specific building plans that would still be monitored reviewed by the city as the project moves forward.
CLICK HERE for past LaMesaToday.com stories on Park Station.