Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006 | San Diego development officials said Wednesday that they would decide by Oct. 13 whether the city needs to take a fresh look at the environmental impact of the proposed Navy Broadway Complex project. The decision could ignite a chain of events that causes the Navy and its hand-chosen developer to miss a crucial deadline that would scuttle the controversial development and result in the military facility’s closure.

Even if Mayor Jerry Sanders’ development services staff determines that a new study isn’t necessary, that opinion could kick start a line of appeals that could torpedo the project.

The addition of this environmental review – which takes into account a project’s influence on traffic, water quality and parking – compounds the amount of work that must be complete before the Navy and developer Doug Manchester meet their Jan. 1 deadline.

This new step, which was laid out in a memo City Attorney Mike Aguirre released Wednesday, must take place before the city’s downtown planning board, Centre City Development Corp., can bless the proposal. In addition, the Navy and Manchester said they will not finalize the terms of their lease until CCDC signs off on the project.

After months of delay, CCDC is tentatively scheduled to decide on the proposal Oct. 13, hours after the city chooses whether an existing review completed in 1990 accurately describes the proposal’s full impacts on the surrounding environs.

There are three basic answers the city’s Development Services Department can give to that question. First, the city could say that the 1990 environmental review of the Navy Broadway Complex still holds up today.

Or, the city could decide that the 1990 study is outdated, but that the effects of the 14.7-project were contemplated in a more recent environmental review, such as the downtown community plan update that the City Council passed earlier this year.

Finally, city staff could determine that no existing document accommodates the impacts that the proposed multiplex of hotels, offices, shops and museums would have on the surrounding community.

If the city staff chooses that last scenario, development officials would also recommend the extent of the study that is needed before the project can move forward. Further study of the project’s effects could last weeks or months, but officials were not willing to venture any guesses.

City Councilwoman Donna Frye requested the legal opinion, claiming that the 1992 agreement between the Navy and the city framing the development states that the city did not negotiate away its ability to further study the project’s impacts. That authority, Frye said, was included in the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

“It’s their own development agreement that lays out the terms and functions. All I did was read it and want to follow it,” Frye said. “The fact that they’re required to comply with their own development agreement means that they are treated no differently than any other developer.”

Aguirre agreed.

“It is clear that CCDC is responsible for performing the [review of the 1992 agreement], but it is also clear by the contract terms that the City retained its CEQA responsibilities,” Aguirre stated in the memo.

Any decision the city makes on this issue is subject to a review by the City Council if a member of the public requests one, Chief Deputy City Attorney Huston Carlyle said. So, even if the city decides a new review isn’t necessary, the decision could be appealed, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

However, the Mayor’s Office said it didn’t think that a decision to stick to the previous environmental studies could trigger a council hearing.

“We may have a disagreement with the City Attorney’s Office on this point, but we will continue to confer with them on this issue,” Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz said.

An appeal by either side is possible, if not likely.

Although the Navy is revisiting a previous environmental review of the site, local brass has said the project complies with the city’s current planning documents. Calls placed to Navy Region Southwest’s press office were not returned late Wednesday afternoon.

On the other side, several members of the public who are skeptical of Manchester’s plans have complained that the documents governing the Navy site are outdated. For example, former city planner Michael Stepner said in a recent interview that he thought the 2006 downtown study “punted” when it came to the Marina District, where the Navy Broadway Complex is located.

The outstanding debate in front of CCDC – whether Manchester’s proposal fits the development guidelines that were established by the city and the Navy in 1992 – can only be resolved after the city’s decision on the environmental review.

The Navy and Manchester said they will not sign a lease until CCDC rules that the proposal lines up with the 1992 development agreement. Under the agreement, Manchester would be allowed to develop luxury hotels, retail shops and office space in exchange for building the Navy a state-of-the-art headquarters on the property and possibly cash.

With a new layer of debate added onto the two obstacles they have now – the CCDC approval and the terms of the lease – the Navy and Manchester will have to scurry to get the project in the Pentagon’s hands by Jan. 1, when the project will either move forward or be placed in the federal base closure process.

Manchester and Navy officials have said for weeks that they already thought CCDC was behind schedule, or close.

“I think at this point we just have to wait until the 13th,” Manchester Financial Group president Perry Dealy said. “Their opinion will outline … what the recourse is.”

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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