The California Coastal Commission has raised several concerns about a 63-unit condo development proposed for Mission Beach, giving residents some hope that the panel may overturn the City Council's recent approval of the project.
But the developer said the issues in question were all addressed to the satisfaction of the council, which voted 6 to 2 in favor of the project.
The 2-acre development, which would be built on an abandoned school site a few blocks north of the resort community's iconic roller coaster, is the latest among several recent San Diego battles pitting smart-growth advocates against anti-density forces.
If it goes forward, it would probably be the last large project built in Mission Beach for many years because of a lack of available land.
During a four-hour hearing before the council vote April 11, dozens of residents criticized the project over park space, traffic and concerns that the scale of the development would be too intense for the mostly residential area.
In a letter submitted to the city, an analyst for the Coastal Commission echoed those concerns — making residents optimistic that members might reject it when a vote is taken by early 2017.
"Coastal Commission staff has identified several areas of concern regarding the project as currently proposed," wrote Alexander Llerandi, a coastal program analyst for the commission's San Diego district.
Those include the size and location of a park included in the project, whether the project adheres to the community's character and what potential negative effects the 63 new housing units could have on public coastal access.
The letter also questioned plans to put the alleys and passageways running through the project under private control, which could jeopardize the public's access to Mission Bay from Mission Boulevard.
Lastly, the letter raised concerns about the development being approved in two pieces — a 53-unit project and a 12-unit project — even though it will occupy a site that has historically been unified as the former location of Mission Beach Elementary.
Residents contend the developer wanted the projects approved separately to reduce some city requirements.
The developer, Chris McKellar, said the letter from the commission was actually good news because it raised only five concerns.
"It's common practice for Coastal Commission staff to offer early comments for the purpose of addressing as many issues as possible at the local level," he said. "We are pleased that staff's pre-review comments were limited to five issues, all of which were addressed satisfactorily at the City Council hearing, and we look forward to addressing them with Coastal Commission staff and commissioners."
The commission staff has yet to thoroughly review the project or meet with the developer.
The goal of such letters, McKellar said, is to ensure any concerns are addressed before proposals go before the commission so that the projects don't get stuck in a loop of going back and forth.
McKellar said the 0.22-acre linear park along Mission Boulevard he is proposing would be less likely to exacerbate the area's problems with homelessness than a more secluded and larger park, which residents had suggested.
Regarding the project's size and community character, McKellar emphasized that the project would be 20% less dense than the zoning allows and would feature fewer housing units per acre than any of the surrounding development.
Making the alleys private could be viewed as a positive, the developer said, because the city won't have to pay to maintain them and the public would be granted a permanent easement guaranteeing passage through the project.
The commission has the power to overturn project approvals by cities or other government agencies, but it approves the lion's share of projects presented to it. Commissioners typically ask for additional mitigation measures.