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Residents of Tierrasanta aren’t known for buckling.

When the federal government decided to build a prison there, they protested all the way to the White House, and won. On a trip to Washington, Mayor Pete Wilson appealed to President Gerald Ford, who stepped in with a last minute reprieve to stop the project. Downtown got it.

Tierrasantans are hoping for a smaller coup this week.

The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to approve construction of a 90,000-square-foot self-storage facility at the entrance to Tierrasanta, a neighborhood bounded by Interstate 15 on the west, State Route 52 on the north, and Mission Trails Regional Park on the east. Residents plan to fill council chambers to oppose the plan.

The facility would be nestled on two parcels of land on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, just off the interstate, at what residents have taken to calling the community’s western gateway.

“It’s going to permanently ruin the entrance to our community,” said Scott Hasson, president of the Tierrasanta Community Council.

When the council takes up the item, it will be the second time since developer Andrew Krutzsch first proposed the project in 2005. In 2007, the council rejected the plan to give residents more time to hash out alternatives.

In the 1980s, the city reserved the land as public right of way for the construction of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and expansion of the interstate. The land was never used as planned, and the Krutzch family, which owned the adjacent parcels, claimed ownership.

The city challenged those claims, but rather than pursue a lengthy legal battle, settled the case by granting the family rights to lease the land for commercial or industrial development. In 1989, City Council approved the settlement in closed session.

The land sat vacant for 16 years, until 2005, when Krutzsch presented his plans and the community raised arms.

Residents of Tierrasanta knew nothing of Krutzsch’s rights to develop the land until 2005, when his family emerged to propose the facility.

Residents argue that the settlement that granted development rights for public property was approved without community input. They say the industrial storage facility would degrade community character and tarnish the low-density vision set out in the Tierrasanta Community Plan. That plan, Hasson said, should have been amended following the road and interstate improvements.

But the Planning Department says the settlement was court-approved and binds the city’s hands.

It was only a matter of time, city planners say, before the land would be developed. The Community Plan, adopted in 1982 prior to the boulevard and interstate improvements, stipulated that those parcels could be re-designated as industrial land after the improvements were completed.

“We think this is consistent with the community plan,” said Patricia Grabski, the Planning Department’s manager for the project. “It was anticipated, so the community plan didn’t have to be amended.”

The roughly three-acre plot of land is zoned for industrial and residential use, and is one of only two in the Tierrasanta community designated for industrial purposes. The second, across Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, is more than 50 acres and remains undeveloped.

“We never anticipated the land was going to be developed,” said Deanna Spehn, a Tierrasanta resident who edits the Tierra Times, a community newspaper.

The developer took the facility plans back to the drawing board after the City Council, facing steep community opposition, rejected his proposal for a 120,000 square foot facility in 2007. The following year, the Tierrasanta Community Council rejected his alternative as well: the scaled down three-building facility that the council will vote on tomorrow.

Krutzsch designed the storage facility to resemble the research buildings that occupy an adjacent parcel. Drawings of the facility depict faux windows that will disguise it as an office building.

“There’s no credible case that this will change community character. It’s next to an industrial park, it’s a low-impact project designed to look like office buildings and designed to be compatible and non-intrusive,” said Wayne Brechtel, Krutzsch’s attorney.

But residents say as much as potential impacts on community character, their grievance is with the perception that the project was sprung on them without notice. That’s something Tierrasantans aren’t used to, and do not take to kindly.

“The real issue is that this is the result of the 1989 settlement agreement that no one knew about,” Spehn said. “If it weren’t for the settlement agreement this wouldn’t even be considered.”

Jim Madaffer, who voted against the project as Tierrasanta’s representative on the City Council in 2007, said the agreement was binding and the city appeared to have little choice in the matter.

“The community has its legitimate concerns, but on balance the city of San Diego entered into a court-sanctioned settlement back in the 80s that fairly well ties the city’s hands,” Madaffer said. “It’s absolutely unrealistic for residents to assume that nothing’s going to go there. Now, they should work on community aspects to ameliorate the impacts.”

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido. And set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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