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Rapid East Village residential growth creating concerns for nearby industry and Barrio Logan

The explosive development of residential properties in the East Village area of downtown San Diego near Petco Ballpark is creating concern for two longtime neighbors: bayfront ship repairing and Barrio Logan.

Long-established industrial users tied to San Diego's bayfront and the rapidly expanding housing market of the nearby East Village must be planned together so the marine businesses aren't driven off the waterfront, according to Peter Litrenta, executive director for the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association.

Litrenta also noted that Barrio Logan might be a best bet for the next round of urban residential development.

The issue of marine versus housing conflicts came to the fore during the hearings for the massive 3.2 million-square-foot, mixed-use Ballpark Village project adjacent to Petco Park, which was approved by the San Diego City Council earlier this month.

While the Working Waterfront Group (of which Litrenta is a member) and Ballpark Village developers JMI Realty and Lennar Urban Housing reached an agreement that allows the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal to co-exist with the potential 1,300 occupants of Ballpark Village, future conflicts might not be as easily resolved.

Working Waterfront is an outgrowth of the San Diego Port Tenants Association.

Although Litrenta didn't know of any projects that could present such a conflict, he said he would like to stop any potentially offending developments before they have become projects at all.

"This (Ballpark Village) is a done deal, but let's not put ourselves in the position where we have to choose," Litrenta said, adding that his association's influence ranges from National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. (NASSCo) to the 32nd Street Naval Station. "We want to get there before any plans are made."

Litrenta said what makes the most sense is to have a 1,000-foot buffer between the ship repair uses and residential developments. The Ballpark Village project, which is now a fait accompli, is about only 500 feet from the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal.

The word buffer may conjure up images of parks or other open spaces, but Litrenta said it also could mean commercial businesses, warehouses and other uses that would screen nearby residential from the ship repair operations that have been in place for decades.

Barrio Logan residents, whose neighborhood was divided by the arrival of Interstate 5 some 40 years ago, also have lived there for decades, and both community activists and Litrenta fear that gentrification could crowd out many residents.

This means his shipbuilders might not be able to live nearby despite their well-paying jobs.

Litrenta worries about existing Barrio residents as well.

"You don't want to displace people who are living there now," he said.

Citing a Barrio housing plan put forth by the Environmental Health Coalition, Litrenta said low- and moderate-income housing units need to be available not just for the poor, but also for workers in the shipyards who would like to live near where they work.

During the debates over Ballpark Village, Barrio Logan residents and the Environmental Health Coalition argued to no avail that instead of being divided between the Ballpark Village site and properties owned by St. Vincent de Paul in other parts of East Village, the affordable units should have been built in Barrio Logan.

"Barrio Logan has long been an ignored community," said Diane Takvorian, executive director for Environmental Health Coalition. "It has the oldest community plan. The last time it was updated was 1978."

Takvorian said the Barrio has a need for at least 1,200 affordable housing units, and that nearly 150 that could have been moved from the Ballpark Village development would have helped. The council decided, however, that while some of the development's affordable units will be built offsite, they should at least remain in the East Village.

Some affordable housing projects are being planned in the Barrio Logan. One plan would place an undetermined number of units on the former San Diego Housing Commission site on Newton Avenue. The Housing Commission is scheduled to move to new headquarters at the Smart Corner in late 2006.

The Housing Commission is involved with at least two definite projects.

One of these is Gateway Family Housing I, a rental development with 16 two-bedroom and 26 three-bedroom units. The project of Simpson Housing Solutions LLC and United Community Inc. is slated for completion in February 2007.

At 4300 Newton, plans are moving forward on The Olson Co.'s Legacy Walk, a for-sale project of 11 affordable and 100 market rate units. The project is slated for completion in March 2006.

Bobbie Christensen, Housing Commission spokeswoman, said there is a potential for 481 more affordable units in other parts of Barrio Logan, but nothing is for certain.

While major plans have yet to be revealed, if the explosive growth in the rest of downtown is any indication, Barrio Logan's days as an affordable enclave may be numbered.

Long-time Barrio resident Georgia Gomez insists that while Barrio Logan is now getting attention, that attention is from speculators who want to develop expensive units.

"The attention is not for the benefit of the community. It is for gentrification," Gomez said. "People are moving because everything is more expensive; small businesses are closing because they can't afford the rents. This offers no benefit to Barrio Logan."

Developer Nat Bosa, whose Vancouver firm has developed more high-rise condominiums in downtown San Diego than any other developer, said although he has no plans to develop in the community, as the East Village fills up, upscale development will eventually move into Barrio Logan as well.

"Of course, I don't know what the zoning is, but I imagine that will happen within the next four to six years," Bosa said.

Richard Weir, Bosa's land acquisition manager, said while that may happen, it won't be without a fight.

"From all I know, the community is more than a little concerned about redevelopment," Weir said. "Barrio Logan is one of the few areas of downtown that's still affordable."

Related Article:

Ballpark Village gets San Diego City Councils’ OK (Oct. 19, 2005)

Waterfront group strikes deal with JMI on Ballpark Village (Oct. 11, 2005)

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