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CCDC Marina Plan Getting Closer : Hard Fights on Height Limit, Implementation Still Ahead

Times Staff Writer

A proposed urban design and zoning plan for San Diego’s waterfront marina area moved another step closer to reality Friday when Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, approved the plan in concept.

The vote puts the agency’s board of directors on record as supporting the plan, which would regulate the design, construction and uses of new buildings in the marina area, south of Horton Plaza.

But several important decisions have been put off until the board meets again on July 18, including how to implement the plan and the hotly debated issue of exemptions to proposed height limits.

If Friday’s deliberations are any indication, those decisions might prove exceedingly difficult.

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For more than a month now, tension on the usually sedate CCDC board has run high. Some have accused the CCDC staff and its director, Gerald Trimble, of deliberately stalling the proposed plan and have questioned the staff’s commitment to building a residential community in the marina area.

On Friday, some of that tension spilled over when board member Peter Davis, who pressed for tentative approval of the plan, said it was time “we did this in the open . . . instead of doing it in a back room somewhere.”

Davis, angered over a press conference called by CCDC and board President Howard Busby two weeks ago to announce the agency was seeking developers to build a 24-unit apartment complex, snapped at fellow board member Jan Richard Anton, who attended that press conference, saying “What authority did you have to do that?”

Davis said it made no sense to seek developers when the marina urban design plan is not yet final and still subject to change.

When Trimble responded that the apartment project was consistent with CCDC housing policies, Davis shot back, “I think you know what you want.”

Despite the acrimony, there seems to be general agreement among CCDC board members on these key ingredients to the plan: residential construction should dominate the marina; there should be allowances for mixed-use projects that include small-scale retail and commercial activities; the scale, mass and heights of buildings should be restricted.

The problem, however, is how to implement those ideas. Trimble and his staff want enough flexibility to negotiate with developers.

Without that flexibility, Trimble and his staff say, CCDC would be left in the position of rejecting a proposal that might adhere to the marina plan in all respects but one.

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Anton agrees about CCDC staff needing flexibility and also believes the final plan should include height limit exemptions. He was the only member in attendance to vote against tentative approval of the plan, which was adopted 4-1.

On the other hand, board director Janay Kruger, who has lobbied to make parts of the plan a city ordinance, would like to see strict adherence to such things as height limits.

That is the only way, she says, that the city can guarantee consistent, high-quality development in the marina.

Anton countered that putting too much of the plan into ordinance form would lead to problems, among them the length of time required to make changes in an ordinance.

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These differences of philosophy will come to a head July 18. At that time, Max Schmidt, a CCDC design and planning official, will submit a general outline of an ordinance along with a series of options--such as the height limit exemption.

The board will then decide which of the options to include and which to leave out of an ordinance. Those left out would be considered the so-called flexible design criteria left to the discretion of CCDC.

As now proposed, building heights would be limited to 90 feet (about nine stories) in most of the marina area. The only exceptions to that are two blocks immediately south and across G Street from Horton Plaza, where high-rises could reach 350 feet (about 35 stories) and two areas for hotels, where the limit would go to 160 feet.

The designated hotel areas are located at 4th Avenue and K Street, across from the convention center now under construction, and on three blocks owned by Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corp. off Pacific Highway and G Street. That company has announced plans to build a 16-story hotel on one of the blocks.

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