City: Legion Post Out Of Park Station Project

LA MESA -- At the last city Planning Commission meeting, a representative of the American Legion shocked a hearing on the Park Station project when he suddenly announced the organization was opposing its own proposal.
Park Station's development team was sent scrambling, saying they weren't sure their American Legion partners understood what they were doing.
Apparently, the Legionaries did know.
On Tuesday, City Manager Dave Witt said city officials had been in touch with the American Legion officials and they have apparently left the project team.
"I think you have to consider them out,'' Witt said.

A visit to the American Legion post, which is just south of the main Park Station property along Baltimore Drive found the post's manager cleaning up his kitchen but otherwise not willing to discuss the project.

"On that, I have no comment, except we're not selling, and we're not going anywhere,'' said Lenny Guccione, who has been the legion's spokesman. At a Planning Commission hearing last month, Guccione said his membership has become uneasy with the scale of the project and was rethinking its participation.

The legion's sudden departure as co-applicant for the zoning changes being sought for the mixed use project -- including a variance that would allow 110-foot towers -- has left city officials scrambling to determine what impact this change will have on the Park Station application.

The project, which was originally proposed to cover more than five-acres of land along Spring-University-Baltimore and the MTS trolley tracks, was filed years ago as a joint effort between the Kitzman family and the America Legion Post next door to the family's property. Calculations made throughout the Environmental Impact Report, which was literally years in the making, used the Kitzman and American Legion acreage to defend densities proposed and the height exceptions being sought. (The city's normal zoning requirements limit heights to 46 feet or about four stories.)

Witt said the city staff was working to determine whether the Legion pulling out requires that this be filed as a new application -- essentially starting over with filings and hearings.

"We'll have this figured out in a day or so,'' Witt said Tuesday.

The Park Station project has drawn a lot of attention since it was first proposed more than four years ago. Its scale and scope fits nicely with the hopes of regional planners who want to encourage transit-related, high density projects rather than more suburban sprawl. But many La Mesans see their city as a single-family, small-town kind of place and have been particularly uneasy with the 110-foot tower that would house a hotel or condo project. 

The official hearing on the project before the Planning Commission last month was suspended and is scheduled to return for further deliberations before that panel July 16th. However, the timing of the resumption of the hearing may depend on whether the Kitzmans will be required to file a new application without their Legion partners involved.

Click here for a compendium of earlier Park Station stories.

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Tags: La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, Lenny Guccione, Park Station, Planning Commission, Urban Housing Partners

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Comment by Batman on July 5, 2014 at 12:29pm

All things considered I would much rather see the Kitzmans develop this land than an out of state or foreign developer, which will likely be the case if the Kitzmans get discouraged and sell off the property. A Chinese developer won't give a damn what our ordinances are or what this town looks like after they are done. Hold them to the existing ordinances but don't make it impossible for them.

Comment by Batman on July 3, 2014 at 1:22am

A spread-out population is much more difficult to control than a stacked-up one. And this is the motive behind promoting high-density development and villainizing "sprawl". Saving the critters and plants is just the excuse. I don't necessarily blame the Kitzmans or other developers for this. With the increasing costs of land, labor, materials and, of course, obtaining governmental approval and permits high-density/high-rise is the most profitable and in some areas the only profitable option. This is, of course, by design. As far back as the 1970s governmental urban planners were referring to the single-family home as a "dinosaur". These urban planners, of course, having been trained by Marxist universities and colleges. If I hear any more of you refer to "sprawl" as a bad thing I, Batman will throw a Bat-fit!

Comment by Don Wood on July 2, 2014 at 3:18pm

In this case the idea that allowing more density on this site will result in less suburban sprawl development is ludicrous. McMillan and Baldwin are building new sprawl development subdivisions as fast as they can on Otay Mesa and North City. Whatever happens on this site won't slow them down one bit. San Diego doesn't practice "smart growth" (urban core density and less sprawl). It practices "stupid growth" (more urban core densities + more sprawl). Unrestrained sprawl development continues to be a fact of life in San Diego County, regardless of what the urban developers claim. There is nothing in this proposal that proves that allowing more density here would cause less sprawl on Otay Mesa or in north county. That's because there really is no linkage between the two.

Comment by Don Wood on July 2, 2014 at 3:03pm

This change will definitely require a new project application, since the revised project will be significantly smaller than the original proposal, which included the legion property and city property along the east edge of the proposed project. There was really never a real project, since the initial EIR was full of "mays" and "might", leaving the public and the city council unable to determine what the developer was really proposing, other than requesting to be exempted from the city's existing zoning and height limits for the property. The city must require the developer to come up with a new project proposal, hopefully one that fully complies with the existing zoning and height limit rules adopted as part of the city's updated general plan, which we spent ten years debating and approving. There is absolutely no reason why this developer should get a free pass exemption from those regulations. If the city council allows this project to be exempt, dozens of other property owners will demand similar exemptions for their projects.  Time for the city to stand fast and stay the course.

Comment by william adams on July 2, 2014 at 12:35pm

Besides, there is NO "project." Just an application for exemption from the current plans and zoning based on a bunch of unrealistic renderings. 

Comment by william adams on July 2, 2014 at 12:28pm

" Its scale and scope fits nicely with the hopes of regional planners who want to encourage transit-related, high density projects rather than more suburban sprawl."  - - That's what Mr. Harmer, project spokesman says.  I think you will find "regional planners" are not a uniform voice on the project.  To think that increased density needs highrises is to think San Francisco, Washington D.C., or Paris are not densely populated.  Conversely, to think that high rises usher in transit use and walkability, is to think that the UTC / Golden Triangle area or Mission Valley are pedestrian and transit oriented.  La Mesa was recently recognized as the County's most walkable city.  It has density that exceeds most satellite communities in the County (because that's the way towns were built 100 years ago).  To drop a game changer project near the heart of the village risks dramatically changing the character and identity of the community, and ushering in an era of transition, with negative results. 

Comment by Karen Whitney on July 2, 2014 at 12:05pm

While we all agree that improvement in the Kitzman property is desirable (since they currently lease to several used car dealers), adding the congestion and change in our lovely little city by stuffing in a 10 story building and 400(!) condo/apartment units is not the kind of change we seek.  Adding to that, the idea that there will only be 1 parking place per unit because 'everyone will use the mass transit' is absurd.  Our zoning ordinances were put in place for a reason and we should be able to expect our elected city officials to honor that.   

Comment by Russell Buckley on July 2, 2014 at 12:02pm

As one who has long been opposed to the radical environmentalists idea of forcing the rest of the population into high rises along the trolly tracks, I am happy to learn that this project will be redefined to meet current zoning laws. La Mesa has long been a place where middle class families who want to do so can afford to live in a modest single family home. I hope it will stay that way. 

Comment by Barry Jantz on July 2, 2014 at 11:50am

"On that, I have no comment, except we're not selling, and we're not going anywhere."

Yet, that "no comment" pretty much says it all!

Comment by Aaron Seth on July 2, 2014 at 9:16am

Thanks for keeping on top of this!  I think the only option for the city is to have a new plan and EIR drawn up (if Park Station still wants it's own specific plan). Losing the Legion land not only changes all the traffic and circulation projections in the current EIR, it also moves the project well out of the Transit Oriented Development range (it was arguable if it ever was really in considering it was only at .25 mi from trolley on the Legion land and by air - it was over .5 mi of actually walking distance).  The city did an excellent job creating their mixed-use overlay - let's keep it to that!  

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