Over the next 20 years, Sandag projects our region will gain almost another million residents based on our existing population having children. Where will these new San Diegans live, work and play? Will we continue growing eastward towards the Imperial Valley, south towards the border and north towards Riverside County? There is a better, more intelligent way to accomplish this: smart growth.

Last week you published an opinion piece from a community member relating to the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego. Many of the “facts” presented were either flat-out wrong or were half-truths. While San Diego must adapt to in-fill projects and using underutilized parcels of land, San Diegans will have to be educated on the benefits of these types of developments. Developers and development interests will have to work on outreach programs to inform and educate the surrounding neighborhoods so those neighbors can be part of the project while providing valuable input to the project developers.

Without new development or smart growth, the Grantville community will lose out on economic growth, river access where currently there is none and an overall beautification project that will turn what was once a car junkyard, auto repair shops and outdoor industrial storage into an attractive and desirable place to live and work. The project developers, Shawnee LP and CG760, who have had this land in their families for more than 40 years, are working alongside community groups and the city of San Diego in order to create a plan for the Riverbend project that embraces the community’s character while still positioning it for smart growth.

Together, the applicant has worked hard over the last nine months to share this vision and plans with the community and to solicit meaningful feedback. They have worked directly with several community groups including the San Diego River Coalition, Navajo Community Planners, Allied Gardens Community Council and Grantville Action Group. From this series of meetings and working partnerships, the applicants have gathered valuable feedback that is currently being considered and analyzed to see if the community’s input can be incorporated into the project.

Among the half-truths that have appeared in this opinion piece are the inaccurate statements regarding the overall project cost. I know the true proposed project cost to be around $250 million and not the $1 billion as inaccurately stated. Another misunderstanding that needs to be corrected is who the developer is. The developer applicants are Shawnee LP and CG760, not Urban Housing Partners. Urban Housing Partners are the project managers. Furthermore, inaccurate statements have asserted the applicants are trying to shortchange the community on proposed park land. This could not be further from the truth. Initially, community groups had requested less park land under the assumption that the park mitigation fee the developer would be required to pay could go to refurbishing existing parks in the area. However, when the city confirmed this fee had to go to new park lands, the applicant began analyzing if it was feasible to put all the park acreage on site.

While some in the surrounding communities have offered positive critiques, there are those who believe “bash the developers” is the way to inform their friends and neighbors. It’s easy to print up a few dozen fliers, send out emails and get your neighbors all riled up to attend a meeting to chant and complain. True community leaders find ways to balance the property rights of a land owner/developer with the surrounding neighborhoods and communities. We are committed to doing just that.

Statements made surrounding the project’s impact on the health of the San Diego River have been grossly misleading. Currently, there is no public access to the river. In fact, most residents either don’t realize the river is there, or can’t see it because of all the weeds and non-native vegetation that has choked the river for years and years. There will be no damage done to the river, whatsoever, during or after the development process. When the project is completed the entire community will be able to access the river for the first time in many decades. We consider this a benefit to the entire Grantville and surrounding Navajo communities.

Furthermore, exaggerations on the building’s height are way out of proportion. Eight-five feet is nowhere near the height of a skyscraper and is actually only seven stories tall. Currently, the applicant is considering a height of 65 feet to see if that is feasible. Considering the argument against urban sprawl and for smart, compact growth, I would think many people would agree building up is better than building out.

Finally, there are those who proclaim that a developer must pay his “fair share” to right the wrongs of the past or provide benefits to those who live outside the development. The applicant is committed to paying all development impact fees associated with this project. Keep in mind that requests for additional mitigation, project bells and whistles, etc. only add to the cost of the housing proposed. Developers don’t pay impact fees, homebuyers do.

The Riverbend project will transform what is currently an automotive repair/junkyard/outdoor storage yard into a source of local pride for future generations of San Diegans. It will open up access to a long hidden community asset, the San Diego River. It will create long- and short-term jobs and diverse housing options while transforming a community eyesore. Without development, there is no opportunity for a river park.

Sherm Harmer is the principal at Urban Housing Partners. Urban Housing Partners is a consultant and project manager for the land owners of Shawnee LP CG 760.

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Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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