Development-crazy on Chula Vista's west side

There's plenty wrong with plans for Third Avenue, say residents

Would a five-story apartment building put more feet on this busy street?
  • Would a five-story apartment building put more feet on this busy street?

A five-story building with 80 condominium units has been proposed for the northeast corner of Third Avenue and K Street in downtown Chula Vista. When the proposal was brought before the public in mid-October, it met with strong opposition.

In addition to 141 subterranean parking spaces, the project will have ground-floor commercial space. The development will entail the demolition of several buildings, including the Alliance Training Center.

Many are eager to see Third Avenue revitalized and believe the right project would put “feet on the street.” But, objections to this specific project are myriad.

The rear of the development abuts Church Avenue, a well-tended street that is zoned residential. Some Church Street residents say the five-story building will block sunlight and breezes they currently enjoy in their single-story homes.

There are also privacy concerns. Some condo balconies will overlook the backyards of some Church Street residents. Balconies will be screened, but critics say this will not address privacy issues.

Pandra, a resident of Church Street, said she was upset by the fact that this complex has been billed as condominiums, but at the community meeting to review the plans the Studio E architect referred to the development several times as apartments. When she asked for clarification, she was told by the architect the condominiums won’t sell, so they will be apartments.

The site is zoned under the Urban Core Specific Plan that sets guidelines for the buildout of Chula Vista’s downtown area. Peter Watry, a member of Crossroads II, a community group that focuses on land use, has referred to this condo/apartment development as “the trashing of the west [side].” He said the project has two pages of deviations, or exemptions, from the guidelines. Watry believes that if the city allows for these deviations it will set a bad precedent for the projects that follow.

One of the deviations requested is to not include any commercial parking space. According to a project memorandum from the architect company, Studio E, “Project requests a deviation on the commercial parking requirement given the small size of the commercial space (511 sf). Providing one commercial space within the [condo] garage would create complexities with regard to securing the garage with entrance gates and separation of the residential and commercial parking.”

Traffic is heavy on Third and K. The area is bounded by streetlights and some have raised concerns about congestion during peak hours. A traffic study was not done for the project.

Other project deviations include smaller parking stalls and a reduced setback for the part of the building that faces the residential area.

The development comes at a time when the city council is considering a proposal to waive fees for developers on the west side of Chula Vista for at least ten years. Regarding the postponed fees, director of Development Services Kelly Broughton told the Voice of San Diego that lowering the fees would mean a compromise that would translate into reduced services for west-side dwellers.

“Right now the city has a rule that there should be three parks for every 1,000 residents,” Broughton stated. “If the city decided to lower the number of parks required per thousand people, it would lower the cost, but at the expense of building fewer parks. And by delaying when these fees are paid, the city will also be delaying when the services that are meant to be provided with them will be delivered to area residents.”

Project opponents had hoped that the city and the architect would bring a revised project back to the community before it goes to the planning commission.

The Reader placed multiple calls to four people in Chula Vista’s planning department. At 8 a.m. on October 29, a city planner called and said Richard Zumwalt, the project manager, would call back at 9:30. At 11:15, the city’s communications manager, Anne Steinberger, called to ascertain the questions. No answers were forthcoming from the city by the filing of this story.

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Way too many vagrants around there to make it a desirable destination.

My branch bank is at Third Avenue and K and I go there at different times on different days. You are in gross error on this matter.

The WORST evil in this development is the Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The allowed FAR for this property is 1.0. That means that the total floor space of the building can exactly equal the full size of the property, and could cover the entire property if it was one story building, or if it was a 2-story building, the building could cover half of the lot, etc., etc. The developer's FAR for this project is 2.3 (as opposed to the 1.0 that is allowed). That is a monster building, and totally out of character for what the Urban Core Specific Plan calls for. And if this, the first building under the UCSP can have all these deviations, why can't all the rest to come? You don't suppose our Chula Vista City Council will vote 'no,' do you, just because it is bad for Chula Vista??

Follow the money and you will find who operates the city council vote.

While these proposed deviations from Chula Vista's Urban Core Specific Plan might better fill the developer's pockets, they are a slap in the face of the residents who will have to live with the negative consequences. Hopefully the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council will reject this project as it is being proposed. It's time the city did something good for the west side of Chula Vista.

Unfortunately, the Chula Vista City Plan has meant exactly zip when it has come to developing--on the east side and on the west side.

And then things like city parks and facilities that should have been planned and built years ago simply never appear. Ratios are changed, and the citizens get no input.

We can't seem to get decent representation. Why is that? Little to no real news about candidates? Whitewashed schemes? Behind-the-scenes operators?

I believe that the floor area ratios are among other planning tools that can be positive, but I found them as one of the methods to justify a decision that has been already made. The planning model at present is densification to avoid sprawl. I believe we have sprawl and will get densification unless there is a massive reform movement. The "Gateway" building at H Street and Third Avenue is a failure and ugly, but real estate development interest will still keep pitching the ancient idea residential living over businesses as new and the thing to do.


You're right, the master plan on the east side has been set aside a number of times-- and there are a lot of variances and condition use permits etc.

The Urban Core Specific Plan for the westside does allow 5 stories, but the guidelines also say things like:

New development should consider scale and character of adjacent area and demonstrate sensitivity by limiting massing...

another thing that is east side/west side is that people in Chula Vista are exhorted to think/shop in the city, but on both sides of 805 we have lost Vons/Haggens, Fresh and Easy, and the mall on the east seems to dwindle every time I go. I hope Barnes & Noble survives, but it seems against the odds...

There is very little variety in the types of stores and in their inventories whether it is in the Chula Vista Center mall, Third Avenue, or Plaza Bonita. Until there is commitment by landlords and shopping center lessors to focus on unique and local businesses with a variety of inventories, and non national franchisees or chains, there is no reason to shop locally. The question is why shop in area, seems not to be asked. I remember when Third Avenue was vibrant and had mix of national chain, regional chain, and small business ownership. I realize that this is civic and business model that is for the present views as quaint and outmoded model for for an especially insecurity, publicity craving city directed by mental and emotional elected, appointed, and civil service Lilliputians.

As to the planning policies, I interned with Chula Vista Department in the 1980s and worked as a student intern ( a way to be paid for learning whether I wanted to be a planner) at San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use. Rich Zumwalt was a nice man, but planners do what is the area's policies and politicians want through exceptions, deviations, General Plan Amendment and mostly through the pressure from their department supervisors, council members and other politicos.

cvlancer, what's a good model that brokers sprawl and densification? I was thinking more amenities, less density, and some landscaping gesture that speaks to the community.

Regarding K Street, are there any parks in the area?

I heard Zumwalt was a nice guy from several people. Wish I could have spoken with him.

Susan, I can't answer your question regarding what a middle road would be between sprawl and densification, but I also wonder what people with city planning knowledge would say.

I am still wondering about those many properties that Sweetwater owns...why couldn't those properties become parks, since the city of Chula Vista's west side has such a poor record when it comes to creating park space--or I should say, the city of Chula Vista has such a poor record of creating park space as mandated by the city plan.

Isn't it madness to continue to create more housing when parking is getting worse and worse, and the recreational spaces do not keep pace with development? Where are kids supposed to play? On the street? If you have high density development, there are no yards.

The city of Chula Vista is supposed to oversee planning and development so that we will have a good place to live, a good place to raise families, a good place to grow businesses that contribute to our community.

Why is it that the city of Chula Vista is acting as if they were punch-drunk after a bad fight?

Or is it that they have been bought out, plain and simple.

Steinberger was kind enough to email me the answers to my questions Saturday morning. Bit pressed this weekend but will try to post them. One question I was anxious to have answered pertained to the benefits that development might bring. Here is the answer:

What are benefits of project to downtown area? "The project will implement the Urban Core Specific Plan that was approved by the City Council in March 2007 and amended in 2011 and 2015. In-fill projects such as this have the benefit of recycling urban land and contribute to accommodate population growth in already urbanized areas, instead of using virgin open spaces in the periphery of the city. In-fill project like this bring new investment and physical improvements into the neighborhood; they provide temporary construction jobs; they provide additional housing opportunities; the new residents will contribute to support the local businesses."

As to infilling, to me it depends on the neighborhood and its physical and visual capacity to accept more density. Some areas were built with narrower streets and smaller buildings and lots as befits that time period. From what I have seen in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Chula Vista, the results are not positive for the existing residents. When modern planning severed its roots with geography it lost its spatial component and understanding of the vernacular landscape ( I have a MA in Geography from SDSU). Also, planning departments depend on whether there in revenue recovery mode ( pay their own way) or part of the general fund ( an expense). I do not know whether CV's Planning Department is in revenue recovery mode or what ever it is now called when it is self supporting. I believe this part of the problem with urban planning as it seems more jargon ridden than intellectually developed.

As to a middle way, I think if it were not for the presence of millions of dollars and if there was a real desire to accommodate growth and preserve neighborhood and commercial area distinctiveness, a way could be developed.I t would take a sincere effort of citizens, government, and academic involvement over years based upon data and visual perceptions which permits changes to the the organic quality of changing urban area. In addition, Chula Vista is nearing the physical limits of commercially praciticable real estate development.

As to parks, people used to use school yards for recreation, I know I did. That might be while there are fewer parks in some areas.

And the others:

Is the city taking the project back to the public or Planning Commission? If so, is there a date for either of these meetings. The project will ultimately be presented to the Planning Commission. However, we do not have a set date yet. The applicant needs to respond to staff’s and neighbors’ comments, revise the plans, and submit them for staff’s review.

Parking – 141 spaces subterranean Is there guest parking/ Not in the plans that were just reviewed by City staff and the plans that were presented to the neighbors on October 15th. City staff has recommended that the project include guest parking. Is there parking for commercial? Not in the plans presented. One parking space is required for the proposed commercial space. Where do cars exit from parking? The entry/exit is on K Street. Is there a traffic study? Based on the number of auto trips to be generated by the project, a traffic study is not required.

Have there been modifications to the plans? Not yet. We understand that the applicant is working on revising the plans.

What is rear setback? She understands it’s 10’ and developer asked for a variance to 5’4” The required setback is 20 ft. However, the UCSP allows one-half of the street (approximately 30 ft.) to be used as part of the setback. So, the 5’4” setback meets the requirement.

I think it is time that planners realize that they need to allow spaces for at least two cars per unit, as well as guest spaces, as well as commercial spaces, if they are planning on a mixed use building.

We already know that when gated communities are built with a lack of parking, the surrounding neighborhoods suffer. So you know there would be vast spill-over from this building onto the surrounding streets if only one space is planned per unit.

I am aware that some people project that Millennials will be using public transportation more, or using bicycles or a combination. But no favors are done if parking and storage needs are ignored.

What are the park or recreational spaces closest to this site? What about the schools?

Does infill planning include consulting with school districts so that they are aware of impacts?

I thought we were in a drought, and were supposed to be taking "sea showers" with buckets and let our yards die and can't wash our cars. So how can anyone justify any new residential construction? Why is it "simplistic" and "not feasible" to say we should have a moratorium on new construction until water supplies are secured? If there's enough water for thousands of newcomers, then there must be enough water for me.

jnojr, You raise a logical point. I have heard a lot of sympathy for your concern from people who are doing everything they can to conserve --including paying punitive water prices--and yet they watch construction of new residences continue. The water companies continue to say there is enough water--and it's up to the city councils to issue building permits or call a moratorium...

The lack of regard the CV Council shows for west side residents is growing - for those who have called the west side home for many many years it is is growing ever more apparent WE HAVE LOST OUR VALUE IN THE EYES OF THE COUNCIL and Mayor.

Less parks, illegally parked motor homes/18 wheelers, dirty streets, vagrants and no code enforcement - the one great common denominator - the people - alas, we see our value too bad the Council and Mayor doesn't.

Mayor out galavanting around to other countries - time to check in Ma'am - time to do your job!

Of course the interesting thing about all of this is that it was claimed that we would have better representation when we moved from "open" representation on the council to district representation.

Does that mean that we only have one person to shrug their shoulders when we can't get reasonable answers?

A complicated issue indeed. Businesses along Third Ave need and desire some sort of development that will kickstart the area and make it a destination location for shoppers. Residents in the area don't want to deal with additional living units that will lead to construction, traffic and more congestion. These are competing interests that our City leaders must deal with.

So what is the solution? Is there a happy medium? Many cite City Heights, South Park, or University Heights as successful downtown areas that have managed this dichotomy. But is copying those areas really the answer? If you speak to residents and business owners, definitely not.

Whatever the solution, our City must engage all stakeholders including residents and business owners.


I'm a dreamer. Or nostalgic. I see Third Avenue as it might be, and as it once was. The people I spoke with about this development weren't against any development, it had more to do with the mass and density of this particular proposal.

Development aside, if Third Avenue could just get one great anchor store. I believe the city council can give various kinds of incentives. There's that word believe again. I believe there is room in this city for two Trader Joe's. If one opened on Third, people would come. Although, meters are a deterrent...something could be done.

How about having the first LL Bean outlet on the West Coast where the old Leader Department store was across from the Vogue as an anchor? It would be in keeping with the sports and outdoor oriented life style of San Diego county. Or demolish the complex that houses UEI and build a one story complex whose buildings could be viewed from the street without having to wander around looking for a business. The Vogue Theater could be remodeled for digital and become a show place for film festivals, film revivals, and as venue for showcasing student films from SDSU's film school and the film schools in Tijuana.

Excellent ideas.

By the way, I still think the idea you had about a new Cal Poly being built in Chula Vista is very good. I hope it is being taken up by those who can make things happen.

Excellent idea on The Vogue. I'd love to see that happen.

cvlancer, Ok I vote for you for City council. Great ideas. Do you know, not a week goes by that someone doesn't mention a dream for the Vogue theater. It's like this very old person with a billion stories to tell. It is a historic landmark, but I understand it's in serious disrepair.

A mixed venue location...cross border fusion is a great idea...films, battle of the garage bands...young people in Chula Vista don't have enough places to go...

cvlancer, Ok I vote for you for City council. Great ideas. Do you know, not a week goes by that someone doesn't mention a dream for the Vogue theater. People love that place. It's like this very old person with a billion stories to tell. It is a historic landmark, but I understand it's in serious disrepair.

A mixed venue location...cross border fusion is a great idea...films, battle of the garage bands...young people in Chula Vista don't have enough places to go...

Again, I wonder if the city could offer incentives to a new buyer...

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