The historic and iconic El Cortez may soon share its block with another residential high-rise building.
Centre City Development Corp., the downtown redevelopment agency, approved a controversial mixed-use project called 777 Beech last month despite concerns from neighbors and pending litigation. The next hurdle for the proposed $40 million, 12-story project by developer Peter Janopaul of the J. Peter Block Cos. will be reviews by the city’s redevelopment agency in December and the San Diego City Council in January.
The controversy emerged from the developer’s most recent request to build a second residential high-rise on the Beech Street side of the block between 7th and 8th avenues. Some opponents fear a second structure may take away from El Cortez’s prominent skyline position on Cortez Hill, block views and not blend with the neighborhood’s historic architecture, according to many neighbors.
Attorney Bob Ottilie said there are multiple legal cases involving the developer, including a case regarding construction defect litigation as a result of El Cortez’s condo conversion a few years ago from rental apartment to for-sale condo units, a lawsuit for allegedly underfunding the reserve fund of the homeowners association, and now a lawsuit regarding the right to develop 777 Beech on a portion of the El Cortez block.
El Cortez Homeowners Association members are challenging the CCDC’s ability to approve further development on the site. The homeowners association asserts an agreement between the CCDC and Janopaul signed before the conversion to condo units restricts further development on the entire block bordered by Beech and Ash streets and 7th and 8th avenues until 2025. The city, however, has acquired legal opinions that the CCDC has sole and absolute discretion to approve or deny additional development on the block.
Michael Zucchet, vice president of real estate for J. Peter Block Cos., said owners of El Cortez units were made aware that construction of a second building might block views and even lower property values.
“I think it is fair to say that, generally speaking, residents here want no development,” said Zucchet. “All the developer has always wanted to do was work with and compromise with the residents, but it is hard to compromise with zero, which is what they want.”
Frustrated El Cortez residents have taken their concerns to the courts, and Zucchet said J. Peter Block is very comfortable with its legal position. He said sales agreement documents at El Cortez have full disclosure on the possibility of building a second structure on-site.
“Their story is heart wrenching and appealing at face value, but as soon as you get out the documents and show the disclosures they signed promising that a building was coming and you do some other fact checking and now it appears to be a simple, straightforward NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue with a lot of good rhetoric mixed in,” he said.
Nonetheless, the CCDC supported a recommendation to approve 777 Beech, which consists of 78 residential condominium units, 15,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, and 144 parking spaces in three main building elements, including a five-story section along 7th Avenue, a seven-story section along Beech Street and a 12-story tower within the Beech Street mass. The average proposed building height is 144 feet.
“The height and architecture were both found to be acceptable for that location,” said Brad Richter, planning manager with the CCDC.
Richter added that the CCDC considered the structure to be compatible with the El Cortez without distracting from it.
If approved, there will be eight studios, six one-bedroom units, 56 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units.
The 777 Beech project was originally submitted for review in January 2006 as a seven- to eight-story building containing 84 residential units and street-level retail in a contemporary architectural style. Proposals have changed dramatically during the past 22 months. From the original proposal of seven or eight stories, the project grew to 18 stories, and has now been reduced to 12 stories. The project architect is San Diego-based Safdie Rabines Architects.
Monaco Project Reviewed
During the same meeting on Oct. 17, the CCDC also approved the design review of another mixed-use project on Broadway between 8th and 9th avenues. The project, Monaco, is a 310-unit residential project with four levels of retail space and 500 parking spaces in a 41-story package. The proposed 435-foot-high project by Ghods Builders LLC of San Diego will provide 23 affordable housing units at 710 average square feet and 287 two-bedroom units with an average size of 865 square feet, if approved as proposed.
Monaco is tentatively scheduled to be reviewed by the city Planning Commission in mid-December.
The project consists of a residential tower over a 60-foot-high retail base that lines the north side of Broadway between 8th and 9th avenues. The retail podium is comprised of four levels, with two full floors of retail at the third and fourth levels that are accessible via small lobbies at the street level. The podium of the proposed building is clad in large limestone panels and the tower is finished in white cement panels with emphasis on symmetrical design, according to CCDC records.
The garage is accessible from 8th Avenue with seven levels of parking below ground.
The project site is currently home to three vacant low-rise commercial buildings. The demolition of one building will require approval by the Planning Commission. The one-story Fletcher Building in this parcel was originally constructed in 1915 and designated in March 2004 as a Local Historical Resource by the San Diego Historical Resources Board. The building was designated an historical site for its association with developer Ed Fletcher, who operated out of this building from 1929 to 1955.
The project architect is San Diego-based KMA Architecture & Engineering.