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Environmental Report Slowing Park Station
LA MESA – When the Kitzman family first approached the City of La Mesa with a proposal for the ambitious Park Station project, everyone involved warned that a development of this scope took time to make it through the regulatory process.
That turns out to be even more true than originally thought.
Today, nearly 18 months later, the process has yet to produce a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR). That has delayed consideration by the Planning Commission and its eventual review by the City Council.
Traffic, it turns out, is at the heart of the delay.
Bill Chopyk, the city’s director of Community Development, acknowledged the process has been hung up by efforts to assure the accuracy and thoroughness of the traffic studies.
The original traffic measurements taken by the consultants working on the EIR were found to be flawed because they were gathered while the city’s new police station was under construction and traffic was being diverted away from the area.
Later versions of the traffic study, Chopyk said, were deemed insufficient by the city, which oversees the process to assure the accuracy and validity of information that is eventually submitted to the Planning Commission for its review.
Chopyk said the addition of the American Legion property brings the project within a quarter mile of the trolley station, making it eligible for mass transit allowances in the EIR process, but the city felt the initial traffic studies they were seeing underestimated the impact the project would have even with the allowances.
“So we’re back to the fourth traffic study and it won’t be done, I don’t believe, before late summer or into the fall,’’ Chopyk said Friday.
That schedule would bring the project before the Planning Commission in late fall and eventually to the City Council toward the end of the year.
The original proposal, that had towers rising perhaps as much as 18 stories, caused some early angst among locals who see La Mesa more as a small town and want to preserve the single-family home image and feared this was another step down urban lane. See earlier story here.
City officials were careful to warn local residents that the land belongs to the Kitzmans and the process needed to give full and fair consideration according to laws that are intended to balance the rights of the property owner while guarding the surrounding community from unreasonable impact.
In many ways, that is why the execution of the traffic study and its outcome may be key to the eventual scale of the Park Station project.
The traffic report will have a heavy influence on the outcome of air quality and noise portions of the EIR study that will follow, Chopyk said.
The delay has not gone unnoticed by the Park Station team. The Kitzmans and the American Legion representatives met with city officials Friday to get updated on the progress.
Jacob Schwartz, of the Urban Housing Partners, part of the Park Station project team, said they aren't getting impatient because they knew from the beginning that a project of this scale, in a city like La Mesa, would require a lot of care and attention by city officials.
"There are a lot of people who see this as a small town and we know the city wants to make absolutely certain this is done by the book,'' Schwartz said. "We want that too.''
In fact, during the last 18 months the Park Station team has met with hundreds of La Mesa residents in small group meetings, sometimes over dinner at La Mesa restaurants. They have reviewed the project's scale and scope (see Park Station's vision here) and listened to citizens' concerns. Schwartz said he was pleased to find that about three-quarters of all those who attended the project dinners supported what they saw at the original scale proposed by the family.
"I think city officials would have appreciated hearing what we've heard during these informal meetings,'' Schwartz said. "There are a lot of La Mesa residents who believe this project could assure La Mesa is the heart of East County. We were pleasantly surprised to hear this.'' How that support gets translated into the planning process and how that process is influenced by property owners whose panoramic views will be hindered by towers has yet to be seen.
It is clear city officials are carefully, methodically walking a middle line, making sure the process can hold up to the potential conflicts or legal challenges the development process could bare.