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The City Council joined the group of elected officials trying to stir up discussion on the controversial Navy Broadway Complex proposal, hearing comments and adding their own during a four-and-a-half hour meeting today.

The meeting served as the only opportunity for the city’s elected officials to provide input on the proposed facelift that the Navy and developer Doug Manchester want to give the harborside military facility.

Council members lamented their role – or lack thereof – in the project’s approval process, as federal guidelines shut out the city from reviewing the plans, although limited authority was granted to downtown planners at CCDC in the 1992 agreement. The CCDC board can make sure that the proposed development lines up with the technical aspects of the 1992 agreement.

“We recognize the usualness and awkwardness of our role,” CCDC Chairwoman Jennifer LeSar said.

The public should play a bigger role in the project’s approval process, council members said.

“You will get a better project if you open it up to the public. Will you be more frustrated? Absolutely … but ultimately you will have a project that the community can embrace,” Councilwoman Donna Frye said.

Councilman Ben Hueso said the downtown waterfront was his “playground” while growing up in Barrio Logan and said he wanted a project that would allow the public access to San Diego Bay and add cultural value to downtown. “When I go to the waterfront, it’s very much a cultural desert,” Hueso said. “We’re not looking for a theme park, but we want it to be attractive.”

Several opponents of the project said they wanted a different use for the land than what was negotiated between the city and the Navy in 1992. These critics said the proposed string of office, retail and museum buildings does not belong on the key waterfront parcel, saying the more populated urban area can no longer support the 2.9 million square feet of construction that is slated there.

“I understand what your role is … but the role for all of us in the community is for all the parties to sit down and renegotiate,” said Michael Stepner, a former of San Diego planner who worked on the 1992 agreement.

Proponents of the development, including Papa Doug Manchester himself, spoke on the benefits of the project. Publicly, they have tried to play up the proposed plan in comparison to the 80-year-old, fenced in warehouses that exist there now and not against other redevelopment proposals.

“We want to tear down this wall – the wall of barbed wire – and the parking lot,” said Capt. Mike Allen, chief of staff for Navy Region Southwest. No fence is slated to be included on the14.7-acre property once it is redeveloped, he said.

CCDC is expected to complete its review of the Navy Broadway Complex at a meeting on Sept. 27. After that, the Pentagon must sign off on the proposal by Jan. 1.


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