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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 | The San Diego City Council approved the behemoth mixed-use development known as Ballpark Village on Tuesday after about five hours of debate that ended when a compromise was struck regarding where the mandated affordable housing would be located.
In the end, the council approved a 3.2 million-square-foot project which will include about 35 for-sale housing units priced for median-income households. The onsite affordable housing makes Ballpark Village the first downtown, inclusionary-housing development, although the number of affordable units was reduced to less than half the amount originally planned by the agency overseeing downtown redevelopment.
In addition to the 35 for-sale affordable units included at the Park Boulevard site, the project’s developers – JMI Realty and Lennar – will construct about 150 units that are aimed at households earning even less money just a few blocks away on land owned by Father Joe Carroll of St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Services.
Ballpark Village is projected to encompass about 115,000 square feet of retail space, 300,000 square feet of offices, and about 1,400 residential units. The project will feature several skyscraper towers, some as high as 40 stories.
The council’s agreement was forged after several dozen individuals – port tenants, planners and pastors alike – addressed the project’s merits and process for more than five hours.
The City Council had been delaying its vote on the project for about a month after JMI and Lennar changed its plans the day before Ballpark Village was going to be considered at a council meeting. The changed plans were the result of a “community benefits agreement” being forged with a coalition of labor and environmental groups called ACCORD. According to the developers and ACCORD, the side agreement’s deadline was also Tuesday.
“What we all wanted was to not let this continue on to another day,” Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins said.
Many in the community, especially the Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment planners, bristled at the last-minute changes to the plan. CCDC approved in May and reaffirmed this month plans where the seven-acre Ballpark Village would have included about 80 for-sale housing units that were affordable for a family earning $63,000 annually in addition to the developers paying a fee.
JMI and Lennar on Sept. 20 proposed to the council the ACCORD deal, which would have moved the affordable housing offsite, increasing the affordability and amount of the designated units (about 150 for-rent units priced for households making between $19,000 and $38,000 per year). By moving the affordable housing offsite, most likely to Father Joe’s parcels in East Village, the developers would save enough money to not only increase the number of affordable units, but also to mandate that workers at the project’s planned grocery store and parking facilities be paid a “living wage,” which equates to $10 an hour with health benefits or $12 per hour without.
Other community benefits in the ACCORD deal included requiring the project to be built using green-friendly energy efficiency standards and setting aside funds to operate a job training center. Job preferences would also be given to residents of nearby neighborhoods such as Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan.
Larry Clemens, president of Lennar’s urban division, said the savings from the compromise are adequate to fully fund the perks promised in the community benefits agreement. He said that the community benefit agreement could still be economical even if 25 percent to 35 percent of the affordable housing remained onsite.
The council approved the compromise 5-to-1, with Councilman Brian Maienschein voting no. Minutes before, a motion to approve Ballpark Village as it was approved by CCDC – with all of the affordable housing located onsite – failed, with Maienschein and Councilman Jim Madaffer casting the only supporting votes.
JMI executive vice president Charles Black said that approving Ballpark Village was fulfilling the promise of Proposition C, the citywide ballot initiative that approved the construction of Petco Park. The ballpark was marketed as an economic engine that would revitalize economically soured East Village. JMI Realty is owned by John Moores, who owns the Padres baseball club that plays home games across the street from the approved project site.
Before agreeing to modify the original plan, Madaffer expressed his dismay that the developers sought changes to the project outside the usual process.
“To say it very simply, the process has been hijacked,” he said. “Certainly the [community benefits agreement] was hatched in a less-than-open process.”
Madaffer noted that the Housing Commission, Planning Commission, CCDC, CCDC’s citizen advisory panel and the East Village Association all approved the initial plans for Ballpark Village, but were not included in meetings that took place in August and September that changed the development’s affordable housing makeup.
Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer for the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and an ACCORD member, said the coalition did not circumvent the process or hold the secret meetings being alleged by critics of the revised plans.
“Many of the groups we invited didn’t come because the truth is that they didn’t believe we’d get anywhere. Now that we’ve got somewhere they’re calling it ‘secret meetings,’” Butkiewicz said. “I resent that.”
Other concerns lodged against the project were whether collective bargaining was going to be used in the project and whether building a largely residential project next to industrial lands and the waterfront would attract potential lawsuits from future homeowners.
Clemens assured the council that the developers were going to include a collective bargaining agreement – which doesn’t explicitly bar non-union shops but does impose wage provisions – in any version of the project the council approved.
Additionally, Ballpark Village residents will be required to waive their right to file lawsuits that complain that their living conditions are intruded by the sounds, smells and bright lights of the nearby port, train yards and industrial facilities.
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