Residents of Old Town, veterans, and parents with young children, more than 50 in all, converged on the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest for the monthly meeting of the Uptown Planners. They were there to give input on whether a transitional housing facility for combat veterans should be built across the street from a K-8 charter school on San Diego Avenue in Old Town.
The proposal from the Veterans Affairs Department has divided the community.
Officials from San Diego's Veterans Affairs health office say the 40-bed "Aspire Center" will focus on the needs of recent veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD or readjusting to life after mild to moderate Traumatic Brain Injuries. According to health officials from the Veterans Affairs office, physical, occupational, and other therapy will be provided on site, as will some substance abuse counseling.
But nearby residents and administrators from Old Town Academy say it is a poor location, that it violates city zoning laws and is too close to residential neighborhoods and to schoolchildren who may be put in harms way if any violence were to spill over from the center.
At recent community meetings, the Mission Hills Town Council, Five Points/Middletown Business Association, and Old Town Chamber of Commerce have all come out in opposition to the center.
Shortly after the hearing began, the discussion shifted from zoning violations or planning issues to concerns about public safety.
Christopher Celentino, Mission Hills resident and co-founder of Old Town Academy, urged the community planners to reject the project. Celentino stated that 196 parents at his school signed petitions stating that they would withdraw their children from the academy if the Aspire Center opened. If that were to happen, the school would likely be forced to close.
"This is an open facility across the street from children who...if there is a problem will not have an opportunity to defend themselves. It is not the right location, across the street from an elementary school," Celentino told the planners.
Later during public comment, Jeff Stinchcomb, a former veteran who spent time at a similar facility in Menlo Park addressed the group.
"You may nix this because of some code violation, some detail in the law but don't nix this out of fear. The men that served with me would give their lives for every child in this place so to say that I am a danger, not true."
After some discussion, Uptown planning group members decided to continue the item for 30-days to give them a chance to review all environmental documents.