The city of Chula Vista officially retreated Friday from its long-held plans to build a 400-room hotel and convention center at the environmentally sensitive Gunpowder Point on San Diego Bay.
Putting an end to litigation to protect the marshlands, the city filed notice in U.S. District Court in San Diego that it would not appeal Judge Gordon Thompson's ruling two weeks ago that blessed the creation of a 300-acre federal wildlife preserve, thereby derailing the development of Gunpowder Point.
Chula Vista Mayor Greg Cox said the city will now focus on the more developable mid-bayfront, which previously had been earmarked for commercial, light industrial, office and residential development.
Cox said Friday that, with the loss of Gunpowder Point, plans for the development might be altered, possibly by adding a second man-made peninsula near the foot of J Street for a bayfront hotel.
'Back to the Drawing Boards'
"We've always felt strongly that we've needed a good quality, destination hotel in Chula Vista, and the studies have previously indicated that the only site for a high-quality hotel was at Gunpowder Point. We'll take another look at that," Cox said. "It's back to the drawing boards to see what we can come up with. We have to start over the process that we started 15 years ago. It's extremely frustrating, but we don't have any choice."
Chula Vista was the only party balking at the loss of Gunpowder Point for development, and its decision on Friday to give up the right was hailed by the company that owns the land and will now turn it over to the federal government as a wildlife refuge.
"We're very grateful. The city is to be commended for a statesman-like approach to this situation," said Jack Dimond, project coordinator for Chula Vista Investment, a joint venture of Santa Fe Land Improvement and Watt Industries-San Diego.
Development of Gunpowder Point had been approved by the state Coastal Commission in 1984, over the objections of its own staff, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish and Game, all of which raised concerns about the effect construction would have on two endangered bird species--the California least tern and the light-footed clapper rail--which nest in the area.
Since then, the Sierra Club has filed two lawsuits challenging the project. One said that the roads should not cross the marshland and that not enough land had been set aside for the least tern. The other suit was filed on the grounds that 178 acres had not been set aside for open space as mitigation for construction of an interchange connecting Interstate 5 and California 54 as well as a flood-control channel for the Sweetwater River.
Both Lawsuits Resolved
Both of those lawsuits were resolved when Chula Vista Investment agreed not to develop Gunpowder Point--even though the city still wanted to.
Dimond said his company wanted the issue resolved so that it could move ahead with its plans to develop 100 acres it owns along the mid-bayfront, progress of which had been stymied by the litigation surrounding Gunpowder Point.
He said his company was willing to donate the land as a federal wildlife refuge because, if it could not use such so-called "mitigation credits" needed as bargaining chips when developing in sensitive environmental areas, it could actually sell them to other developers. In fact, he said, another developer already is in escrow with his firm to buy 10 acres' worth of mitigation credits "for a handsome and substantial price."