How high can Bankers Hill go?

St. Paul's tests the limits

St. Paul's Episcopalian cathedral will gain 12,000 square feet of office and gathering space.
  • St. Paul's Episcopalian cathedral will gain 12,000 square feet of office and gathering space.

A project to build a 20-story residential tower next to the St. Paul’s cathedral on Sixth Avenue between Maple and Nutmeg won praise and criticism from the community Thursday night at a well-attended meeting.

More than 50 people came to review plans by Greystar Rental Construction and Development to use a permit — and possibly an environmental impact statement — for a 15-story tower on the west edge of Balboa Park, coupled with density and affordable housing bonuses to build the tallest building in the area.

“This isn’t height for height’s sake, it’s height to meet important goals,” said Omar Rawi from Greystar. “I would argue that if there was a site for a tall building, this is it.”

The building would displace the 16-unit Park Chateau apartment building and would be wider from east to west along Olive Street than the sides facing the park and the bay.

“It’s a beautiful design,” said Tom Mullaney. “I’d support it if it was at the 150-foot height limit.”

That height limit is a matter in hot dispute. Planning group members believe it’s a hard 150-foot limit, while the developer and his consultants disagree and see it as advisory.

St. Paul’s has partnered with Greystar and there’s support for the project from the congregations and neighbors. They have met regularly with the community — though they would not have to if they can use the old permit — and are keeping detailed updates on the parish website.

Of the 204 apartments now proposed (an increase from the 2011 plan that called for 65 condos), 18 will be for very low income residents, held at well below market cost for 55 years. The developer calculates that 18 constitutes 12 percent affordable units. The rest will be higher end, with about 30 studios, 92 one-bedroom, 78 two-bedroom, and a handful of three-bedroom apartments.

There will be a ¼ acre courtyard between the new building and the cathedral which may be a little breezy for pedestrians, Rawi said.

The ground floor will have some commercial space and St. Paul’s will gain 12,000 square feet of office and gathering space in the new building.

Developers are planning a multilevel parking garage beneath the building with 278 parking spaces. That works out to be more than one parking space per bedroom, 135 more than what would be required.

Retired Rev. Andrew Rank from the Society of St. Paul gave stirring support. “Cities are more than housing. Cities are more than baseball parks and cities are more than five-story buildings. Cities are vibrant, living organisms that are place of beauty, places that raise the spirits,” he preached. “That building, the exterior will celebrate the congregation having a 150-year presence in San Diego.”

But others looked at it and saw a monolith out of character with the neighborhood and developers taking advantage of height and density bonuses and an old development permit to push through a project distasteful to the residents.

“We’re destroying 16 units and putting in 18 so we’re not really gaining 18 low-income units, we’re gaining two,” said Nancy Moors of the Bankers Hill Community Association. “They’re not gaining what they got the (affordable housing) privilege for.”

Susan Fleming added that the developer wanted to be in the neighborhood without respect for the people whose work and presence made the area desirable.

“We’re the ones who provided the ambience the developers want to build around,” she said. “And they’re not listening to us.”

Over and over, residents asked for the height to come down to 15 stories – saying that their comments weren’t being taken seriously and applied to the project. But a St. Paul’s governing board member said it doesn’t work like that.

“You can’t simply chop off five floors and expect the project to pencil out,” said Marshall Moore from the board of St. Paul’s.

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Adding two affordable units in a project this size is shameful. St. Paul is rolling in dough with various enterprises and should show a bit more public spirit.

Twenty stories? St. Paul's Cathedral? Even if it were ALL affordable housing, it would be utterly out of character with the neighborhood. This will open the door to more of same.You can put lipstick on a pig, but it will still be a pig. I am shocked.

Swell suggests in their post that providing 2 new affordable units in the project is shameful. I would agree with that, but add greedy. I would assume Rev. Andrew Rank suggests the building exterior is what the church is providing the city as a benefit because there isn't anything else. Certainly not meaningful affordable housing, not respect for the West Mesa of Balboa Park which will be shaded by the building, not adding any commercial spaces on 5th Ave to add to the vibrancy of Bankers Hill. And the lack of respect for the community by reopening a settled process that led to the scale and setbacks of the original permit is another aspect of their shamefulness. Does St Paul's feel adding 20' to the height of the building for a glamorous private party space and roof top pool for the residents (and maybe their board) benefit the community?

If they felt this project was a gift to the community why did they feel they needed to hire the developer lobbyist who berated Hillcrest community members to benefit her Gateway clients? And of course a project would pencil out on that site at the 150' height the rest of Bankers Hill residential towers are respecting. Several other buildings were just built to that height and seemed to work out fine for the developers. And St Paul's can use the increased density to build a greater number of smaller units at the previously agreed upon height, which is what Bankers Hill needs more than expensive large apartments.

Come on St Paul's, do right by your community.

Adding insult to an old injury, what's really shameful is St. Paul's charade.

For any other landowner, their property and its entitlements either sell or don't based on whether a buyer is interested. St. Paul's has a permit for 150 feet. So either Greystar can work with that or St. Paul's finds a buyer who can.

But as "St. Paul’s has partnered with Greystar," that means it's retaining partial ownership and acting as a developer. Which makes the constant stream of speakers in clerical drag and appeals to spiritual benefit being used to dress up what is actually naked material interest genuinely indecent and cheap.

This is just another religious group whose true denomination is what can be deposited in a bank.

The agreed upon 150' height limit in Bankers Hill respects sunlight in Balboa Park and the neighborhood in general. It has proven to look and feel right for the community. And that agreement has led to respectful discussions about future projects that focus on minor issues like the size of retail spaces. St Paul's greedy decision to ignore that and use the excuse of providing housing when they are really creating offices for themselves, luxury rentals and a glamorous penthouse party pad for the residents (and I assume St Paul's too) is just plain wrong. Its an insult to the community and Balboa Park forever.

Change is always difficult, but necessary in a ever growing urban area. Compromise, while difficult too, is divine.

JustWondering, your comment is somewhat vague, but I assume you realize the Bankers Hill community has been very supportive of new buildings, and essentially came to a compromised agreement with the City and developers about height already. St Paul's is not only asking to disregard that agreement regarding height, but is also asking to go beyond setbacks that are in place to respect Balboa Park. So essentially the community has further compromised by accepting the noticeable encroachment into the setbacks. St Paul's could easily ask for increased density and a larger building envelope by going beyond setbacks and respect the sacred height limit next to Balboa Park, and I think the divine compromise you refer to would be achieved. I suppose I agree with you that there is a divine aspect to compromise, but I feel an even more sacred quality is to respect your community (both the residents, future residents, and the buildings that help define the quality of life now and in the future). St Paul's is NOT respecting its community.

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