A lawsuit brought by Mission Beach Citizens for Responsible Development, challenges the project, as well as the City Council’s approval of it by a 6-2 vote last year.
Overriding concerns about traffic, parking and alteration of Mission Beach's character, the City Council voted last year in favor of the MBE condo project. It had previously been unanimously approved by the Planning Commission.
Developer McKellar McGowan originally proposed 20 buildings with 63 units split between duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, plus one single-family residence. The proposed project is on the former elementary school site at the corner of Santa Barbara Place and Mission Boulevard. The abandoned school would be demolished to make way for three-story residential buildings.
In approving the condo conversion, the Coastal Commission demanded concessions that McKellar McGowan agreed to. Those concessions included shrinking the number of housing units from 63 to 59, and re-shaping and enlarging the project’s linear park along Mission Boulevard, which some beach residents derided as more of a median than public-recreation space.
“Inflated lot sizes to justify big units, understating the project’s population and (lack of) park space — those are the overarching issues,” said attorney Cory Briggs, representing Mission Beach Citizens for Responsible Development, as the legal issues involved. “The [developers] are trying to put 10 pounds of s**t into a five-pound bag maximizing profits. They don’t care about the neighborhood.”
Briggs argued developers “didn’t make the park big enough, didn’t address the [allegedly excessive] bulk and scale of the project.”
The developer’s representitive, Chris McKellar, said his firm has “made some concessions expanding park space while losing four units, which was a terrible thing for us — but was a huge thing for the community.”
Previously, McKellar said their condo conversion would open up beach access “by putting in three access ways down to Bayside Lane instead of having a chain-link fence, [there now] which prevents access.”
Briggs described the developer’s concession to add park space as “breadcrumbs” claiming, “The .2 extra acres of park space was the equivalent of a couple bedrooms. We think it should be double that.”
Characterizing the developer’s condo conversion as “the biggest development in the beach community in the last 50 years,” the Mission Precise Planning Board opposed the project, alleging it violates the community's Planned District Ordinance guiding commercial development.
Gary Wonacott, president of Mission Beach Town Council, concurred, saying MBTC “strongly supported the position that the developer’s plan did not conform to our PDO. However, the city did not agree with all of the community points, and the project ended up in litigation.
Once this went to litigation, the MBTC stepped back and has no position.”
Wonacott described the Coastal Commission’s conditions attached to the condo conversion project’s approval as “a partial win for the community.”
Beach community planners insisted the project takes liberties with lot sizes, which have remained unchanged since the community was first developed. Mission Beach's zoning was laid out in the early 20th century by San Diego developer and sugar heir John Spreckels.
Closed in 1996 because of declining attendance, the former Mission Beach Elementary School and its 2.23 acres were sold at auction by San Diego Unified School District for $18.5 million in May 2013 to McKellar.