Hundreds of new downtown rentals approved
Get used to a skyline filled with construction cranes. The downtown housing boom looks like it’ll continue for the next six years.
Civic San Diego, the city’s downtown development review agency, reviewed seven projects with 1,650 apartments Wednesday — possibly a one-meeting record in more than 40 years of redevelopment.
The projects this week ranged from a renovation to a 1910 historic site that will accommodate 80 affordable units to 620 units in a 41-story tower complex on Broadway.
Some will need Planning Commission or City Council action and one was delayed to resolve various design issues.
“It’s up there,” said Brad Richter, assistant vice president for planning at CivicSD. The quantity of projects jammed onto one agenda was partly a function of the agency’s no-meeting schedule in December.
But the quantity demonstrates that downtown — where more than 4,400 units are under construction — continues to welcome growth.
“We think the pace will continue,” said CivicSD President Reese Jarrett. “It may not be at the same accelerated rate, but I think there will be an influx of new development downtown.”
Meanwhile many neighborhoods and suburban cities — and their voters — campaign against housing projects despite a growing population and escalating rental rates and purchase prices.
Coincidentally, the number of units approved downtown was nearly equal to Lilac Hills Ranch’s 1,746-home project, rejected by countywide voters as Measure B on the Nov. 8 ballot.
All the approved projects involved apartments, a reflection of the shortage of rental units in recent years, said CivicSD Chairman Jeff Gattas.
“We now see that tide shifting a bit,” he said, with ever-more apartment projects proposed.
However, rising interest rates may make apartment projects less economically viable and shift interest back to for-sale projects, said developer Nat Bosa.
He won approval of the biggest development on the docket, Broadway Block, between Seventh and Eighth avenues. But he said it still might open as a for-sale condo project, depending on demand and the economy.
“The interest rate is what has driven the construction of apartment buildings in the U.S. in the last several years,” said the Canadian-based developer, who has two luxury high-rise condo towers under construction here currently on top of many already completed. “If you raise interest rates by just one point and construction costs keep going up where they have been, it knocks the economics right out of the game.”
CivicSD directors for the most part lauded the design and density of the projects up for approval. Some included onsite, rent-restricted affordable units and others included nonresidential elements, such as office space and ground-floor shops.
Parking drew a variety of comments. Bosa reduced the space count while increasing the number of units. Forge Land won kudos for proposing San Diego’s first automated or robot-run parking system.
Developer-architect Jonathan Segal defended his use of incentives to provide no parking in a 36-unit project in Little Italy by saying tenants’ housing costs would be reduced accordingly.
“As we start to find alternative ways in which to allow people to be mobile within an urban environment,”Gattas said, “I think parking will be less of a factor in the overall housing component.”
But the board voted to send the project back for more design review.
Here’s a quick look at this latest crop of projects in order of size.
Broadway Block: Broadway-C Street-Seventh-Eighth; developer, Bosa Development; architect, Joseph Wong Design Associates; 41- and 21-story towers (up to 440 feet high), 620 apartments or condos (up from previous developer’s proposal of 498 units); 17,400 square feet of retail, 743 parking spaces (down from 960). “I think we need more housing, so I like it,” said director Ted Shaw. Project architect Chris Fassler said the originally planned 61 three-bedroom units were replaced by studios because rents could not cover the marginal higher cost. Senior Planner Aaron Hollister said in the staff report that the project would represent a “new landmark along Broadway” and be part of a “reincarnation as downtown’s residential core” between the central business district and City College.
Park & Market: G-Market-11th-Park; developers, Holland Partner Group and Sekisui House; architect, Carrier Johnson + Culture; 34- and six-story towers (up to 360 feet tall), 426 apartments including 85 rent-restricted units, 14,600 square feet in two floors of retail, 50,000 square of offices in the low-rise tower, 5,200 square feet of open space; 560 parking spaces in four underground levels; restoration and reorientation on the block of the historic Remmen House. Located on the city-owned site now occupied by the temporary Quartyard food-and-drink shipping container complex, this project will yield $12.3 million back to the city for future affordable housing. “We’ve really focused in this project on creating an amenity for the neighborhood,” said Holland’s executive managing director, Tom Warren. Estimated at $275 million and due for completion by January 2022, the project drew praise throughout the design process.
Streetlights Makers Quarter: 15th-16th-F-G; developer, Streetlights Residential Holdings; architect, Carrier Johnson + Culture; 29- and six-story towers (up to 338 feet high), 295 apartments, 22,300 square feet of ground-floor retail space, 468 parking spaces. The second biggest project (following 298-unit Broadstone Makers Quarter) to date in the Makers Quarter section of East Village drew some objections at the meeting from the carpenters union over alleged use of nonlocal and nonunion workers. But CivicSD officials said they had no authority over working conditions on the privately-financed development. The board approved minor design changes, most notably a “more elegant transition” from the rooftop to the tower look.
India & Beech: Southwest corner of the two streets; developer, Forge Land; architect, Kwan-Henmi Architecture Planning; 28 stories (334 feet tall); 150 apartments, 3,159 square feet of retail; 155 spaces in a two robotic, fully automated above-grade parking levels, the first of its kind locally. “After 13 years of searching for a (parking and design) solution, we found one,” said developer consultant Sherm Harmer.
New Palace Hotel: 1814 Fifth Ave.; developer, San Diego Housing Commission’s Housing Development Partners affiliate; architect, Studio E Architects; three-story, 80-unit, $21.3 million rehabilitation of the 1910 hotel that was previously rebuilt after a 1989 fire. The existing residents will be temporarily housed elsewhere while kitchenettes are added to each unit, the roof is replaced and various upgrades are carried out.
The Beacon: South side of C Street between 14th and 15th; developer, Wakeland Housing & Development; architect, M.W. Steele Group; five stories, 44 low-income units. Project architect Diego Velasco said the units are meant to house formerly homeless persons, who will receive services from nearby Father Joe’s Village and the county’s behavioral health services personnel. But Gary Smith, president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group, said the location, next to the Union Square condo project, could be problematic if the supportive services disappear in a future budget cutback. But he called it an “attractive” project.
320 W. Cedar: Northwest corner of Cedar and Union streets; developer-architect, Jonathan Segal and his son Matthew Segal; 35 apartments averaging 393 square feet and a 6,017-square-foot single-family home to be occupied by the younger Segal. By virtue of including four affordable units and taking advantage of various incentives, the Segals can propose no onsite parking except for two spaces for the house. This approach, while praised by some as a recognition of changing transportation habits, was condemned by two neighbors, Denise Nelesen and Michael Smith (no relation to Gary Smith). They said Little Italy residents and businesses face chronic parking and traffic problems. “The notion of creating this type of development with no offstreet parking is ludicrous,” Smith said. Director Phil Rath said state and local zoning allows for such a no-parking plan, but director Robert Robinson said it was “unfair” to the community. Director Paula Avila said the project had “too many negatives” and the board sent it back to staff for further refinements to the design. Jonathan Segal said he had tried unsuccessfully to secure offsite parking commitments but that the units would appeal to car-less renters whose housing costs would be less than otherwise.