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Old May 31st, 2005, 06:02 PM   #1
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Update: Ballpark Village

Critics take swing at JMI's pitch for Ballpark Village:

A fight is brewing over Ballpark Village, a $1.4 billion multibuilding project across from Petco Park. (San Diego)

It would be the area's most expensive project ever and would, for the first time downtown, bring together affordable and market-rate condominiums, stores and offices.

It would include four public plazas and complete a tree-lined link between Balboa Park and San Diego Bay.

But opponents say that thousands of shoppers and five towers of new residents would also produce a host of problems.

Among the concerns: Rising rents and land prices in neighboring Barrio Logan, obstructed views from the planned downtown library, potential exposure to diesel and other pollutants from trucks at the nearby Marine Terminal and a threat to industrial operations and high-salary jobs at the Port of San Diego.

Charles Black, executive vice president of JMI Realty, said the criticisms are misdirected, though some of the concerns have merit.

"They are addressing issues that are much broader, that can't be shouldered by this project," he said.

The project is expected to come before the City Council July 19. A divided Centre City Development Corp. approved the project Thursday.

No designs exist. Rather, CCDC and JMI, the development company of Padres owner John Moores, entered into an agreement for a master plan for the buildings and nearby areas.

The project would include up to 3.2 million square feet of floor space and is "the realization of a promise that we made to the voters," Black told the CCDC, referring to the 1998 ballpark ballot issue.

In return for a $300 million public subsidy for Petco Park, Moores pledged to build offices, housing and retail units within a 26-block redevelopment zone around the stadium.

Within five years, Ballpark Village would bring total private investment in the ballpark zone to $3 billion and annually yield $20 million in new property taxes, Black said.

Ballpark Village would include about 100 units of affordable condominiums in the $200,000 range for moderate-income earners only. Future prices and buyers of those units would be forever held to that level.

Integrating affordable housing in a condominium project has never been done downtown. All other downtown developers have paid fees to CCDC to avoid building affordable units.

The units at Ballpark Village would be half of JMI's required affordable housing, and the developer would pay CCDC an additional $5 million.

Leslie Wade, a spokeswoman for the East Village Association property owners' group, told the CCDC that by mixing housing types JMI is "ahead of its time."

But CCDC board member Jennifer LeSar, who wanted JMI to increase its on-site share of affordable housing, voted against Ballpark Village, as did Wayne Raffesberger.

While the project offers some public good, LeSar said, "for the scale, height and density, we don't have adequate public benefit."

Black said the affordable units would cost JMI nearly $9 million.

Linville Martin, a real estate consultant and member of the Centre City Advisory Council, a planning group that advises CCDC's board on such projects, said JMI's money would be better spent on building more units where land and construction costs would be less expensive.

"It's the stupidest idea I've ever heard," he said at a May 18 meeting. "I think it's a very severe mistake."

Several speakers at the May 26 hearing described the 100 units as less than affordable. They also said the project would accelerate the gentrification of nearby Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights, where residents face rising rents and land values.

"Our community – my community – is being erased," said Genoviva Aguilar of Sherman Heights.

Richard Lawrence, of the Affordable Housing Coalition, said 100 affordable-housing units out of nearly 1,600 units overall is not enough for the low-wage work force downtown. "It appears too few have done too well at the expense of too many," he said.

Donald Cohen, head of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a nonprofit think tank, said JMI is not to blame for the gentrification, though Ballpark Village would "move it that much further and faster."

Cohen and others asked that JMI work out a community-benefits agreement to minimize any impact on nearby neighborhoods and residents.

Black said San Diego developers would contend with pressure for such agreements "from here on out."

"They're trying to get traction from this project," he said. "But this project didn't cause gentrification."

Robert McNeely of the CCDC said a community-benefits agreement could "stall a project for an inordinate amount of time."

Rob Wellington Quigley, the architect of the proposed $150 million central library on the northern edge of Ballpark Village, said the project's 40-story towers would block views from the main reading room – a "signature civic space" – on the ninth floor.

He submitted drawings to show that 98 percent of the water views from the reading room would be blocked by the towers at Ballpark Village.

"I don't blame JMI," he told the CCDC board. "The job of protecting the public is yours. One aspect of this (project) has gone horribly wrong."

Julie Dillon of CCDC said the board, which has $80 million in taxes invested in the library, is "not going to be able to protect the library 100 percent."

Throughout the village planning process, JMI and CCDC have used a 1999 environmental impact study done for the ballpark.

Randa Baramki of the Environmental Health Coalition asked CCDC to update the environmental study before proceeding. She said residents of Ballpark Village could be exposed to toxins from the port, making the project incompatible with the area.

Black said no health or safety issues exist. The closest Ballpark Village building would 1,500 feet from the terminal, he said.

Dan Wilkens, executive vice president of the San Diego Unified Port District, reiterated the port's opposition to the project, which he said is incompatible with maritime industries.

Wilkens asked CCDC to undertake an in-depth study on land uses on San Diego Bay, a request that Black said JMI would heed.

"Otherwise, we'll wake up 10 years from now and have no waterfront industries, maybe no Navy, no high-paying jobs, and everybody wondering how we got here," Wilkens said.

Everything seems to be moving forward, the only thing that could stop it is the City Council. Im praying that it is approved, the East Village past Petco could use a central entertainment district.
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