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The City Council has cleared the way for Bishop George McKinney, pastor of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, to develop the long-stalled Valencia Business Park. The property has sat largely vacant for years in a southeastern San Diego neighborhood with few retail and grocery options.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve McKinney as the developer of choice, giving him 60 days to develop conceptual and financing plans for his project. He’s proposed developing the 14-acre city-owned property into a grocery store, drug store, health clinic, and facilities for community gatherings.

The agreement also gives the Southeastern Economic Development Corp, which is responsible for promoting city-sponsored development across large swaths of southeastern San Diego, 180 days to draft a final development agreement for the City Council to approve — the last step before McKinney can break ground on the project.

McKinney has been wrangling for the right to develop the site for more than a decade. During part of that time, the property was plagued by controversy after voiceofsandiego.org revealed that SEDC’s then-board member maintained a close business relationship with the SEDC-chosen developer. That developer was eventually stripped of its development rights.

McKinney, whose church is across the street from the property, has long argued that as a member of the community and someone with previous experience in developing affordable housing for seniors, he was the city’s best choice to develop Valencia Business Park into a community-oriented business park that would create jobs and generate valuable tax revenue.

But he said former SEDC leaders had stonewalled his attempts to gain the right to develop the site. In July, SEDC’s new board of directors selected McKinney as its developer of choice.

On Tuesday, 4th District Councilman Tony Young commended McKinney for his persistence in trying to secure the project, and apologized for the behavior of former SEDC officials.

“I apologize for the way that SEDC, in the past, not with our current CEO, in the past, treated you,” he said. “I believe that you were always qualified to do this work.”

Before McKinney and his Phoenix-based development partners, Dudley Ventures, can break ground on the project, the city will have to rezone the land to permit retail development there, because only industrial development is currently allowed. McKinney has proposed paying the city $750,000 for the land, half of what he offered two years ago, and potentially several times less than what the property will be worth after it is rezoned for retail and commercial use.

Acting SEDC President Brian Trotier has said the agency will hire a consultant to determine the true value of the land and make a final recommendation for the sale price.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Young praised Trotier for moving the project forward after years of delays, and seemed to indicate satisfaction with the current direction of SEDC, which has faced scrutiny and questioning about its financial solvency since a 2008 scandal ousted its former president.

“This is what happens when you have a redevelopment agency that is running correctly,” Young said.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org, or at 619.325.0528, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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