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LA MESA -- More than two years ago the Kitzman family of La Mesa proposed a major "smart-growth'' development that could transform a largely vacant area of downtown, but to date not a shovel of dirt has been turned.
And city and project officials agree it may not be until the end of 2012 before the project even makes it to the City Council for formal consideration.
Slowing the review process has been a traffic study which has been turned back by city officials as many as five times as project engineers and the consultant the city is using to evaluate the proposal have wrangled over its accuracy. The back-and-forth has resulted in the developer scaling back the project to meet city requirements, though the reductions have come in plans for commercial and business space, not the tall residential towers that were the focus of early critiques of the plan.
"The first traffic study they submitted asserted the project would have no impact on traffic,'' said Bill Chopyk, the city's Director of Community Development. "For a project of this size, that's hard to accept.''
Park Station would take a little-used parcel along Baltimore and Spring streets and fill it with 18-story residential towers and a mix of commercial and office space and would feature a large, underground parking structure. But its scale, a clear departure from La Mesa's "small town'' image of itself, has spurred debate.
The traffic study is a key early requirement for the project because the extra demands on local streets and highways will be a large part of the eventual Environmental Impact Report that will establish the eventual limits for the density of use on the property.
Jacob Schwartz, a consultant working for the Kitzman's on the project, said the process has been difficult, but no one involved on the project or city side of the equation are surrendering to the frustrations.
"The family is 100 percent committed to this project,'' Schwartz said. "We respect the role the city is playing and we are just hoping we can move ahead more quickly now.''
Schwartz said the project has been scaled back, largely in the commercial and office space planned, to assure the traffic study won't require major reconstruction of nearby city streets.
"We feel our original traffic studies followed the letter of state law,'' Schwartz said. "But there is a subjective element and the city's consultant didn't agree so we've adjusted it and are ready to move on.''
With the U.S. economy still struggling and the housing and credit markets still in shambles, one might wonder if this delay was useful for the Park Station endeavor. But Schwartz said this type of project is not having trouble finding financing.
"This is smart growth,'' he said, "Higher density and a walkable community with transit. This is the type of project banks fall in love with these days so every day of delay hurts us. Time is money.''
Chopyk said a draft Environmental Impact Report -- referred to as the EIR in building circles -- could be circulating by late Spring or early summer and the project could move through Planning and onto the City Council by late this year.