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Imperial Beach is on the upswing, developers say

Imperial Beach is generating more interest from developers as it labels itself a great place to work with a cooperative government and quality residents.

That was the general sentiment Thursday during a ULI@Lunch panel discussion that focused on four projects in Imperial Beach, two completed and two pending.

Marc Perlman of Integral Communities discussed the Bernardo Shores project, made up of 190 two- and three-story condominiums and three single-family detached homes.

Allison Rolfe of Pacifica Companies shared her story of Pier South Hotel — where the Thursday event was held — a 78-suite oceanfront hotel.

Ginger Hitzke of Hitzke Development Corp. discussed The Post, a 30-unit mixed-use affordable apartment complex.

And Estean Lenyoun of Sudberry Properties discussed Breakwater, a 45,000-square-foot shopping center at Ninth Street and Palm Avenue.

When asked about challenges faced when proposing the projects to the local government and residents, the panelists had trouble thinking of an example. The city of Imperial Beach recently completed a commercial zoning update to enable commercial and mixed-use development along Highway 75, Palm Avenue and Seacoast Drive.

Greg Wade, assistant city manager in Imperial Beach, said the updates “strike a good balance between economic development and maintaining the small-town character of our city.” The update was aimed to incentivize development while also maintaining the character of the beach community.

“I’d like to stand here and say it’s a result of that zoning change that has generated this intense interest in Imperial Beach that we’ve seen. I don’t think that’s really the case,” Wade said.

“I think what we can point to is projects like this, the economy slowly started to eke its way back into existence, and then also some development interest and partners that have decided that Imperial Beach is a good place to do business.”

The first floor of the Bernardo Shores project was zoned for commercial use, and Perlman said Integral wanted it to be residential. He said the city’s efforts were “extraordinary” when it went to the Coastal Commission to rezone that area.

“It allowed us to do the development that we were proposing,” Perlman said. “I’ve done this for a lot of years and I’ve processed different maps and plans throughout pretty much all of the cities in San Diego County and south Riverside, and I can pretty easily say that Imperial Beach is, if not the best one, one of the best ones we’ve ever worked with.”

He said the city is proactive and open to ideas, and the only dilemma is that there isn’t more developable land.

Construction on the Bernardo Shores project is anticipated to begin in late 2015 or early 2016, Perlman said. The product is geared toward singles, young married couples and retirees. He said there’s interest from those who rent and work downtown and want to buy, but can’t afford downtown.

Lenyoun said the quality of people in Imperial Beach is “phenomenal” and the major tenants are starting to understand that. He has a saying that Imperial Beach residents are “classy, but a little bit sassy.” He said IB is just starting to be discovered.

“Anybody who has done their homework and their due diligence on Imperial Beach knows that this city is on the upside and there are great things happening. We’re fortunate to be part of the developments here,” Lenyoun said.

The moderator of the event, Paul Marra of Keyser Marston Associates, Inc., said he was at the City Council meetings when the three entitlements were approved and said there was a warm embrace between the council and the developer.

“[Imperial Beach] is an easy city to work in,” Hitzke said. “I don’t want to act like Imperial Beach is giving anything away here. You need to bring a quality project. You need to know what you’re doing. You’ll find staff and council to be very open-minded to get things done.”

Imperial Beach wasn’t Hitske’s first choice for her project because the area already has a lot of housing and apartments. She said she made her decision knowing that she’d have support and knowing that she was helping to implement the new plan.

Rolfe said Pacifica works to build broad support for projects before going in for approvals. To do this, the company pulled the project off the beach to align its seawall with the walls adjacent to it, and it created a curved design that didn’t block off views as the previous structure did, she said.

The project — originally planned as a condo-hotel — was approved after receiving a lot of support, but in 2008 the market tanked and the owner decided not to go through with the project, Rolfe said. The Imperial Beach community wasn’t happy, Rolfe said, and Pacifica faced a few years of not being liked.

The project ultimately got back on track as a traditional hotel, and the owner was motivated because people invested so much in the project and wanted to see it happen, Rolfe said.

Rolfe said the elected officials in Imperial Beach have always been accessible and thoughtful, and the staff, including Wade, is ethical and works as an advocate for the community.

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