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San Diego County eyeing redevelopment of Annex property in Kearny Mesa

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A request for proposal to redevelop the County Operations Center Annex site in Kearny Mesa into a major mixed-use project is expected to be approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The 19.5-acre property at the southeast corner of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Ruffin Road has a 360,000-square-foot building. A very large two-tiered parking lot takes up much of the rest of the property.

The Polinsky Children's Center for neglected and abused children occupies a portion of the eastern side of the county property, which would not be part of the project.

The structure houses several county departments, including the Registrar of Voters, the Department of Planning & Land Use, the County Parks & Recreation Department, the Department of Public Works and the chambers for the San Diego County Planning Commission.

While the plan for the site is still very much in flux, the county hopes to develop a number of high-density residential units and commercial/retail uses as a way of subsidizing the rest of a development.

According to a county staff report, "Kearny Mesa continues to develop not only in its traditional pattern as a commercial/light industrial center, but more recently as a residential enclave along Spectrum Center Boulevard and Lightwave Avenue." That recent nearby residential development is in the San Diego Spectrum on the former General Dynamics property.

While the footprint of the Annex could be expanded by 200,000 square feet or more -- still leaving room for the rest of the development --, the county wouldn't allow more space on the site than there is today without a rezone. A rezone also would be necessary to make this a mixed-use development.

The plan would require much of the current expanse of parking to go subterranean; given that there already is a lower-level parking lot, however, that may be easy to accomplish.

The county still hasn't determined how much space it will need except for that it should allow enough room for expansion. A two-year-old report determined that as much as 600,000 square feet of county office space could be on the site, but such a plan was never approved. County officials also say this assessment could have changed over time.

The report also states, "Equally important will be the approach of potential developers to include compatible, high-value, private-sector development to return revenue to the county." Again, the total size of the project will likely depend on the developers, who will have 45 days to respond to the RFP.

The county would then need to find temporary quarters while the project is built. It will also need to consider that the building dates back to the mid-1950s, and asbestos were being used as a fire deterrent until at least the mid-1960s.

"By today's standards, this site is underdeveloped and the facilities are nearing the end of their useful life..." the report states, adding that the building "is now outdated and undersized."

While the county has eyed this site for redevelopment for many years, the latest effort dates back to 2001 when the Department of General Services began the Kearny Mesa Master Plan Study.

As part of that effort, the county took stock of all its departments on the Annex site and forecast the needs and programs at a 20-year planning horizon.

While the draft plan was completed in March 2003, no final report was ever completed.

"Now, with the nature of the real estate market, plus the size, value and location of the Annex property, there is an unparalleled opportunity to redevelop the site and realize the facilities and capacity needed for county operations," the report continued.

John Kross, a county deputy director, said there is no timetable regarding the project other than the 45-day RFP period. "We are just asking for ideas," he said.

Kross noted that the site's size and location will have developers clamoring to build on the property.

"I think there will be a lot of interest from the development community," he said. "We're going to get a good response."

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