Tourism: Park Could Build
Structures to 160 Feet Tall
On Land Leased from City
SeaWorld San Diego’s request to build taller structures recently moved forward when the city’s planning commission initiated environmental studies and project proposals.
The decision made Oct. 14 could lead to an official amendment to guidelines in the Mission Bay Park Master Plan.
Last November, voters exempted SeaWorld from a longtime 30-foot height limit imposed on coastline construction.
Once the amendment is passed, the park could build structures up to 160 feet tall on the 189.5 acres it leases from the city. SeaWorld pays the city about $6 million a year, which includes a percentage of entrance fees and refreshment sales.
Six commissioners unanimously voted to initiate the project. Planning Commissioner Patricia Butler didn’t vote because her consulting firm prepared SeaWorld’s proposal.
However, commissioners asked for additional information and echoed previous requests for more details about thrill or adventure rides the park might build, said Mike Westlake, the city’s project manager for the SeaWorld expansion.
SeaWorld went to the commission last month with a similar request, but they deadlocked 3-3.
According to Westlake, the park’s latest proposal was different in several ways. Park officials moved a parking structure site and lowered its height by five feet, to 45 feet tall. SeaWorld also limited its request from two hotels to one. It also added a spot for a future trolley station.
There’s a big difference between initiating impact studies and recommending approval, Westlake said.
“They’ll still want to have a couple more hearings before they get to a point where they can recommend approval,” he said.
When initiating the studies, commissioners made additional requests of SeaWorld. They instructed the park to take major steps to involve the public in the process, and set up a process for public review for the park’s future development.
Bill Davis, SeaWorld’s general manager, said the park, through public workshops, expects to discuss the changes with residents all over the county. Those workshops will likely include a presentation, then input will be solicited from attendees, Davis said.
Local activist Donna Frye, a Pacific Beach resident who has long opposed SeaWorld’s expansion plans, is curious as to what will be discussed at the workshops, since many of the details as to what will be built haven’t been decided or announced, she said.
There wasn’t any significant differences in the plan that SeaWorld submitted this month vs. last month, Frye said.
“I can’t imagine a homeowner, or any other business for that matter, going before a planning commission and saying ‘I want permission to build something,’ and they go, ‘what are you going to build,’ and they answer ‘we don’t know,’ and (commissioners) say, ‘OK, go ahead.’
“Either you follow planning guidelines or you don’t. If we’re not going to follow planning guidelines, or any pretense of planning guidelines, then let’s just say it.
“Let’s just say, ‘We have different standards for people who generate so much revenue.” I mean, if that’s the way it is, just say it.
“They do not own that land,” she said of SeaWorld. “The public owns that land , it is our land , and I believe that (SeaWorld) is simply a renter.”
When they initiated studies for SeaWorld’s expansion, commissioners also requested that SeaWorld define major and minor projects beyond height, examine the expansion’s impacts on local views, develop plan alternatives and look into technology that would decrease the park’s noise.
There will also be a review for each project as it comes up, Westlake said. If SeaWorld wanted to build a roller coaster, for instance, it would have to come back for the planning commission’s approval, he said.
‘I can’t imagine a homeowner, or any other business for that matter, going before a planning commission and saying “I want permission to build something,” and they go, “what are you going to build?” and they answer “we don’t know”.’