San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club: A Dilemma for Clairemont Community Planners

by on April 2, 2021 · 5 comments

in San Diego

this article was first posted on April 2, 2021

By Joni Halpern

Community mistrust and apprehension surfaced in the March 10, 2021, Zoom meeting of the Clairemont Community Planning Group’s Plan Review Subcommittee.

Those sentiments arose amid discussion of whether a Bay Park property known as the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club should be approved for higher-density development under special regulations that could be included in the Clairemont Community Plan Update.

Douglas Jensen appeared as a spokesperson for the tennis center owners, the Ming Tom Family, and their partners, the Douglas Allred Family, who together seek approval for a Community Plan Implementation Overlay Zone or (CPIOZ).  The San Diego Municipal Code defines a CPIOZ as a document containing city-approved regulations that apply to a specific property within a community plan.  A CPIOZ for the tennis center property would create an “overlay zone” that sets forth development regulations describing limitations and guidelines for development on that particular site .

To give the community an idea of design parameters that could be included in a CPIOZ for tennis center property, Jensen presented a “second conceptual plan” showing a sample of dwelling units, parking spaces, and a development configuration that might allay community concerns about the effects of higher-density development on the 9.6-acre site.

Bridge from Tecolote Road to San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club

In a previous meeting, Jensen had presented a conceptual plan that met with robust criticism and led to many community suggestions for changes to the plan.  The second conceptual plan illustrated design changes made to accommodate residents’ concerns about the impact multi-family housing would have on the surrounding community.

In the current Clairemont Community Plan update, the tennis center site is zoned for single-family dwellings, or 5-9 units per acre.  If the CPIOZ were approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, it would increase zoning to the next level, allowing 16-29 units per acre, or a maximum of 276 units on the property.

However, Jensen repeatedly assured meeting participants that even though a maximum of 276 units could be allowed, the Toms and Allreds planned no more than 200 units on the triangular parcel, in order to accommodate changes sought by the community.  He said the Toms and Allreds were committed to being “good neighbors” and wanted to create a development design that would address community concerns.

Marlon Pangilinan, senior planner with the City of San Diego Planning Department, participated in the workshop meeting.  He said the Tom and Allred Families submitted their proposal to upzone the tennis center property “late in the game,” long after the Clairemont Community Plan update process was under way.  He said the City Planning Department referred the two families to the Clairemont Community Planning Group to “get a recommendation or some direction as to whether the community planning group thinks it is a good idea to increase the density on the tennis center site.”

Regardless of whether the community planning group approves of the CPIOZ, the City Planning Commission and City Council still have to give their approval before the CPIOZ can become part of the updated community plan.  However, Jensen implied that support from the community planning group might strengthen chances for approval by city officials.

Pangilinan said the Planning Commission and the City Council could establish a  CPIOZ for the tennis center property even if the community planning group disapproves.  And, if the Toms and the Allreds choose to exercise an option open to all property owners, they can bypass the CPIOZ process altogether and apply directly to the City for rezoning and amendment of the community plan, once the update is in place and an actual development plan is put forth.

From the meeting discussion, it was apparent that many community members prefer tennis center zoning to remain single-family.  But several community members said they believe it would be impossible to oppose successfully multi-family developments on the site, given city officials’ current focus on increasing housing units in San Diego.  For this reason, almost everyone who spoke at the meeting said the community’s only chance to influence the density and design of development on the tennis center site is through participation in the CPIOZ process.

“The way I see it, there are two different tracks that we could go here,” said Glenn Schmidt, Project Review Subcommittee member.

“I know many of us wish the Racquet Club could stay, but that is a side issue.  What we are looking at now is:  Should we include the upzone as part of the community plan update?  I can tell you from experience that the new mayor, with the Planning Department, are trying to find every possible way to increase housing.  So if they [the Toms and Allreds] go to the City outside the community plan update process, they will probably get a lot more units than what we are talking about right now.

This is the one and only opportunity we have to have an effect on the potential long-term resolution of what happens on this property.  Otherwise, you’ll get a five- or six-story project there that is way more dense than this one, and the Planning Commission would readily embrace that.”

If a CPIOZ is made part of the community plan update, the Toms and Allreds need not  seek future approval for higher-density development, unless the development plan they submit at that time violates the guidelines of the CPIOZ.  If that were to happen, city planners could require new environmental evaluations, a new review by the Clairemont Community Planning Group, and approval from the Planning Commission and City Council, all of which would require  much more effort and expense than a plan that stayed within the guidelines of the CPIOZ.

“So the opportunity here is for the PRS and CCPG to find a way to manage the design and maybe some other aspects of the potential development when this comes forward,” said Pangilinan.  “The applicants are here to see if they can get support for their proposal for including upzoning on the property as part of the community plan update.”

Pangilinan said a CPIOZ can include some generalized constraints that address the community’s concerns about bulk and scale of buildings, street-front appearance, parking, emergency access, and perhaps even cap the number of units at 200.  He said the CPIOZ offers the community a chance to come together with owners and developers to tailor the potential of future development.

“They [the applicants] do not have an actual project right now,” Pangilinan said, adding that an overlay zone would allow the community planning group to have a voice in the scale of the development as well as some of the design features it would include.

Jensen said the second conceptual plan incorporates substantial changes requested by the community.  For example, the plan shows that two-story units along Knoxville have been turned to face the street, rather than having them “turn their back on the community,” as in the earlier plan.

An entrance from Littlefield Street has been straightened to provide exclusive additional access for emergency vehicles.  Units in the rear of the property have been re-oriented, so parking areas would not face the backyards of adjacent single-family homes.  There would be more onsite parking due to the reduction in number of units.  Buildings closest to single-family neighbors would be two-story, while three-story buildings would be massed in the center of the development.

Jensen said the illustrations in the second conceptual plan are “cookie-cutter,” that is, housing products that merely allow visualization of what a development plan might look like.  Housing styles are always changing, he said, so it is likely that future development will include new features.

Some community members expressed doubt that the generalized limitations set forth in a CPIOZ would be sufficient to address the actual parking and traffic impacts caused by the addition of 200 units, many of which would be occupied by more than one car owner.

Community members also doubted the Environmental Impact Report that will be undertaken by the City as part of the Clairemont Community Plan update will address community impacts that are sure to be made worse when a tennis center development adds to the thousands of dwelling units already approved within the nearby Morena Corridor Specific Plan.

Pangilinan said the environmental analysis accompanying a community plan update is “programmatic,” meaning it is more generalized, as opposed to a more specific analysis conducted when an actual development plan is presented to city planners.  He said when a project is actually proposed for development, the planning department determines whether it creates more issues that need to be studied beyond those analyzed in the EIR for the plan update.

“If that happens,” he said, “there might be additional environmental review.  There  might be more studies, or there might be other things that need to be done.  But we won’t know until the actual project is proposed.”

“EIRs don’t mean a damn thing,” said one community member.  “We had F-rated EIRs for traffic readings on our Morena Boulevard study, and the City still passed it.  So that doesn’t mean anything to us to have input into the EIR.”

Others said that a CPIOZ would benefit a developer without guaranteeing that future development of the tennis center site would not increase density to a level even greater than what the Toms and Allreds now propose.

“All of this [CPIOZ process] is conceptual, non-binding,” said Richard Romero, a community member.

“Promises, intent, have no legal effect whatsoever.  What the project will look like, who will develop it – developers sell and change projects all the time.  Once the property owners get the upzone, they can turn around and sell the property, regardless of what the intent of the overlay zone was.  There is nothing we can do about that.  Even if we stick with this developer, and I agree that this plan is better than the last one, but it’s like saying, ‘Choose between one broken arm and two broken arms.’”

“At the end of the day,” Romero continued, “shoe-horning this upzone into the plan update process is to the benefit of the developer.  I understand that there can be some controls by involving the PRS and the CCPG, but if the developer gets booted from this process [of obtaining a CPIOZ] and they have to do it on their own, they are going to have to pay for their own EIR, they’re going to have to do their own studies, and that’s going to be more costly for them.”

Some community members pressed Jensen about whether the ownership and development plans for the tennis center property might change in the future, if business exigencies and opportunities for greater profit appear.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” said Jensen.

“But the likelihood of this property ever selling is very, very, very unlikely.  The Tom Family has owned this property for a very long time, and they have no intention of selling whatsoever.  They have a long-term ground lease with the Allred Family.  I have known the Allreds since 1981, the Tom Family for eight to nine years.  I have gotten closer to them as we have looked at the community plan update.  There is nothing certain in life, but I can tell you their track record, and I believe them.”

Jensen said that the two families are “sincerely interested” in putting out a fine quality project.  He said he cannot tell the community exactly what the architecture will be like when the Toms and the Allreds decide to build on the property.

“But with CPIOZ language in place, we can talk about what it’s going to look like, maybe a window of how many units there will be.  There are certain parameters you can put within the specific plan language of the CPIOZ without really picking the architecture or the color of the curtains.”

Jensen could not say when the Toms and Allreds would present an actual plan for development of the tennis center.  He said it could be anywhere between 3-5 years or 10-15 years.  “I just do not have a date,” he said.

John Wurster, a community member was concerned that a CPIOZ could open the door to maximum density when actual development takes place.

“This area has been zoned single family, RS-17, which is one unit per 5,000 square feet, which is where you get your 5-9 units per acre,” he said.

“It’s been zoned that way as an intentional buffer to density, to the more urban types of areas as you get closer to Morena Boulevard.  If we’re proposing 16-29 dwelling units per acre [on the tennis center site], that is multi-family zoning, and in the world of affordable housing, there becomes all kinds of exemptions to that.  You could go up to three extra stories, an extra 30 feet in height, and in this area, there would be no parking.  So regardless of what the Tom and Allred Families would like to see there, if we approve such a zoning change, it could result not just in townhomes, but some other developers could come along, and by making it affordable housing, could really bypass a lot of this.”

Jensen acknowledged that when affordable housing is involved, other factors such as density bonuses can influence development.  “But that’s why we’re here,” he said.  “We’re talking about how do we work with the community.  And we found a vehicle, and that is the CPIOZ language that allows you to write a specific condition.  It’s like a specific plan that goes with the title of the property in City zoning for that specific property.  What kind of guardrails can we put on this to make it part of our community and shape it?”

Jensen said the PRS and CCPG “would have a hand in crafting the CPIOZ.”  He said he wrote the first draft of CPIOZ language so “that it would reflect the comments of the community and the agreed-upon conditions so that the Toms and Allreds can take it to Marlon [Pangilinan], the City Council and the Planning Commission and say ‘We have to get this approved as agreed upon by the community and the applicants.’”

Marjie Schmidt, a member of the review committee and the full planning panel, noted that the community had not seen the entirety of the proposed CPIOZ language written by Jensen.  But she said, “the language I saw does lock in a number of features of this vague general concept plan to the community’s benefit and creates obligations on the owners to comply with that, if the City accepts it.”

Kevin Carpenter, who chaired the Project Review Subcommittee meeting, cautioned participants.  “I hope everyone understands that this CPIOZ is the only tool to implement any restraints on this project.”

The Clairemont Community Planning Group will revisit whether to approve the proposed CPIOZ at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 13, 2021, via Zoom.  (For more information about the meeting, contact Kevin Carpenter at kevin.james.carpenter@gmail.com.)

 

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Concerned Citizen April 3, 2021 at 8:17 am

It should be noted that the city has delayed the planning group review of the Clairemont Plan Update for over a year.

Conveniently, this delay allowed the San Diego Tennis and Racket Club to insert itself in a questionable fashion to a planning group project review which should have been concluded according to the city planning schedule.

The planning group subcommittee analyzed density and other factors during multiple meetings starting in 2017. Their recommendations were supposed to be reviewed in a timely fashion by the full planning group after the subcommittee ended in March 2020.

Calculations and considerations about land use and mobility were made about the area where SDTRC is located. However, this property was never presented by the city planners as part of the Focus Area study. Therefore, it was never considered in community meetings.

There is not and never has been a member of the Planning Commission from the Clairemont area.

With the resignation of one long term commissioner, why isn’t the mayor looking to Clairemont and appointing a representative from this community ?

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Kevin J. Carpenter, AIA April 5, 2021 at 2:04 pm

Correction to this otherwise comprehensive summary of the issue: The next Community planning group Project Review Subcommittee meeting is Wednesday the 14th of April
The main Planning Group meeting follows on Tuesday the 20th (not the 13th)

Thank you for your interest in Clairemont

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Darryl July 18, 2021 at 10:59 am

Who will have the final say in the approval process?

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Mat Wahlstrom July 19, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Want to caution that if the CCPG decides to go along with a CPIOZ for this area they need to be extra concerned with the language.

The Planning Department is pushing to use CPIOZ for the land use and building design components of their Plan Hillcrest scheme, but in February admitted that there are no design requirements or regulations included in it. A CPIOZ needs to be *amended* to include them, which could be closing the barn door after the horses have bolted.

Here’s the moment: https://youtu.be/Gy4KAZWChoE?t=3982

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Tom Mutter October 17, 2021 at 3:24 pm

As a SDTRC member and tennis player in the Bay Park/Clairemont community, admittedly I have a bias. However, even if I was not, it appears the reality of whatever development occurs disregards important issues of overcrowding, obvious water/environmental negatives, parking, traffic congestion, further elimination of recreation in the surrounding community and adverse enjoyment and access of Tecolote Canyon. Moreover, whoever wants us to believe this will help the homeless housing problems in our city is lying. Maybe they include the country club golf courses and tennis clubs in La Jolla in the plan?

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