Friday, Oct. 20, 2006 | Mayor Jerry Sanders’ development staff paved the way Thursday for the city’s downtown planning board to decide the fate of the Navy Broadway Complex at a meeting next week. However, the administration’s decision that the environmental impacts of the controversial development don’t need to be reexamined has set off a new dispute over the City Council’s ability to review that decision.
The city’s Development Services Department, which reports to the mayor, said Thursday that the 1990 environmental review of the controversial waterfront redevelopment project stands up today because more recent studies have already contemplated the Navy Broadway Complex’s impacts on a more urbanized downtown.
Thursday’s memo puts the project back on track for completion ahead of a Jan. 1 contractual deadline. The Navy’s regional command and its handpicked developer, Doug Manchester, said they were anxiously waiting for the city to confirm that the existing environmental documents suffice.
The military and Manchester said they will not sign the lease they need to be in place by Jan. 1 without the blessing of the Centre City Development Corp, the city’s downtown planners. CCDC has postponed that approval since July and further delayed its decision after City Attorney Mike Aguirre opined on Oct. 4 that the city needed to determine whether the 16-year-old environmental study held up before the downtown redevelopment board could sign off.
The CCDC board is now expected to make its final decision on whether Manchester’s proposal conforms to the guidelines that govern the redevelopment project on Wednesday. The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in the City Council chambers.
“That was their final outstanding issue that was of concern to CCDC and the city attorney,” said Perry Dealy, president of Manchester Development. “We’re looking forward to having our item heard and getting the board to make a decision on it.”
Thursday’s OK by the Mayor’s Office touched off a new dispute over the ever-contentious project, which would transform the current 14.7-acre parcel from the compound of aged administrative buildings, warehouses and parking lots into a multiplex of hotels, offices, shops and museums that includes a brand new headquarters for Navy Region Southwest.
Critics of the project have contended, among other complaints, that the 1990 environmental documents do not take into account the impacts of downtown’s rapid development – primarily, the impacts of increased traffic on the urban core that has arisen since.
In anticipation of Thursday’s decision, two activist groups – the Broadway Complex Coalition and Save Our Forest and Ranchlands – both wrote letters saying that none of the city’s studies, including the updated downtown plan the council approved earlier this year, addressed downtown’s traffic situation.
BCC member Ian Trowbridge, a resident of Mission Hills, said he would appeal the city’s decision to the City Council if the administration did not call for further study, but Sanders’ land use deputies said the conclusion cannot be appealed.
Jim Waring, the mayor’s land use chief, said a legal opinion that Aguirre’s office issued in April 2005 related to an unrelated development contradicts the city attorney’s assertion in the Oct. 4 memo, which says the public has a right to appeal whether the city’s environmental reviews meet state requirements.
“There is conflicting advice on the table,” Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz said.
Chief Deputy City Attorney Huston Carlyle disagreed, saying the 2005 opinion the Mayor’s Office is holding up as a precedent deals with different issues.
Bob Manis, the development services aide who made Thursday’s decision, described his work as “ministerial,” saying that he only had to determine that no new substantial changes to the proposed project or its circumstances had taken place. Also, new information about the project or the surrounding community has not become available since the most recent study, the 2006 downtown plan update.
Because the work wasn’t significant, it can’t be appealed by the public, the Mayor’s Office said.
Carlyle said Manis’ work was too “substantial” to not allow an appeal by the City Council.
“With all due respect, we disagree,” Carlyle said.
He added: “The document they issued today took over two weeks to prepare, is a little over four pages long, and they independently reviewed over five different [reports] to arrive at a conclusion. That’s different.”
The dispute between the staffs for the mayor and city attorney could be reconciled by the City Council, but Council President Scott Peters, who is in charge of scheduling votes, such as a potential appeal, said he has not decided which office to side with.
He said he will weigh his desire to get involved against his concern to not further delay the project, which could force the facility’s closure.
If the Pentagon does not approve of the deal, which allows Manchester to lease the land for development if he builds the Navy a new building, by the end of the year, the base will be closed. Other federal agencies, and even recognized American Indian tribes, would have priority over the city in landing the parcel.
“We would not want the expiration of time to elapse … on the other hand, it’s important and if there is some job that we’re supposed to do I imagine the council would want to get to do it,” Peters said.
If the council granted an appeal of the mayor’s staff’s decision, it could hold up the Navy project further. However, less than one week separates Thursday’s report and Wednesday’s meeting, when CCDC is expected to move ahead with a vote.
Betsy Kinsley, Peters’ chief of staff, said she didn’t think the council would have room on its agenda next week to hear an appeal, especially since the council president canceled the afternoon portion of Tuesday’s meeting. Peters called off the meeting so that council members could attend the funeral of George Stevens, a former councilman who died Monday.
Councilwoman Donna Frye, who called for the city staff to review the project’s environmental documents at a September hearing, said she thinks the council should hear the appeal and require a new environmental study. She described the staff’s argument included “weasel words” that barred the public from its right to review new information.
“They generally fall down on the side of no more public participation,” she said. “I’ve found that to be fairly standard with Jim Waring on just about every project we’ve looked at.”