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LA MESA -- Six or seven years ago, La Mesa city development officials believed El Cajon Boulevard as it runs through West La Mesa was poised for a renaissance.
Several developers had acquired vacant or underused lots and the city had stepped in to do street improvements and establish zoning changes to encouraged mixed use residential development.
Then the Great Recession hit and virtually everything stopped. That is, until Tuesday night.
Amid an otherwise uneventful meeting, the council quietly approved a 56-unit apartment development, Touchstone Villas (artist drawings above and below), that will fill a long vacant lot just east of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church.
"I think you could say this is a sign the economy is improving,'' La Mesa's City Development chief Bill Chopyk said. "We hope this is a start again.''
The new development, located at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Woodyard Avenue, will include retail and residential units and is located in a stretch of El Cajon Boulevard with a number of lots and underused parcels the city development officials are hoping will also now start to fulfill the earlier hopes.
In addition to a lot directly across from the Touchstone Villas, Chopyk said developers continue to consider plans for lots next to the BMH Italian Deli on the church's west side and further up the street there are both trailer park owners who would consider redevelopment and two large vacant properties on the boulevard's south side where mixed use projects remain on the drawing board.
El Cajon Boulevard may have been down on its luck for some years, but it has some natural advantages, not the least of which is heavy daily traffic that can drive more commerce than other, sleepier parts of the city. It is also the home to a number of popular restaurants including Terra, Haritna and BMH Italian among others.
The Touchstone Villa project got no comment and virtually little notice at Tuesday night's council meeting, while the council and a familiar group of speakers continued to pore over the on-going debate about how the city will pay for maintenance of the new downtown streetscape being planned for La Mesa Boulevard in the city's Village section.
Bill Jaynes, a consistent critic of the long-discussed Property Based Improvement District, was charged at the council's last meeting with bringing back an alternative to the PBID and Jaynes did at least some of his homework. He returned Tuesday night with a simple and familiar plan: use the parking meter money.
City staffers confirmed for the council that the meters generate more than enough funds to cover the maintenance costs and a majority of the council appeared ready to put the whole issue to bed by simply allocating some of those funds to maintain the new street.
That, however, would not only be a defeat for Mayor Art Madrid and a variety of his supporters in the village, but it would also signal a retreat from council efforts to get downtown merchants and property owners to contribute to the city's investment in the downtown.
The idea for a Property Based Improvement District had been born to address a situation in which the Village merchants weren't contributing, in some views, to the success of their own business environment, while the city was seen as subsidizing events with police protection and other public services. At its worst point, the Village's Merchant's Association told the city it was unable to raise the funds to pay for maintenance of the downtown flowers and the city removed the planters.
But the PBID effort, now in at least its third year of hand-wringing effort and controversy seems to be dying as the council that originally funded it, voted at its last meeting to de-fund the effort even before a formal proposal made it to the council for consideration.
The streetscape project in the Village is slated to begin soon after the first of the year and all hope the new, polished sidewalks and streets will generate a revival with or without a public-private partnership to maintain and market the area.
Vacant lot that will become Touchstone Villas next door to St. Martin of Tours Church.