La Mesa delays decision on new apartments where historic building burned during protests

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The La Mesa City Council delayed approval for the design of a new downtown apartment building after residents objected to how the five-story structure might affect parking and traffic.

The 64-unit complex is believed to be where the historic Randall Lamb and Associates building once stood, before it burned down in May 2020 during racial justice protests that turned violent.

The project has already been approved by various city agencies, making it largely a done deal. But the debate taps into broader tensions within the growing city of East County over the degree of overdevelopment, a central issue in this year’s city council elections.

“I have a safety concern” about “so many people and so many vehicles,” said Mayor Mark Arapostathis, who is running for re-election. “What is the guarantee that everyone will use public transport? »

The council voted 4-0 on Tuesday to gather more information before reviewing the proposal. Councilor Laura Lothian recused herself because her office is close to the site and State Law prohibits public officials from intervening in matters that could affect them financially.

The site is about a block from a light rail station, and eight of the 64 apartments are considered affordable housing, allowing developers to circumvent certain rules, including the number of parking spaces required.

Only 29 places would be offered, which makes a little less than one place for two apartments, according to city records.

The project was developed by Palm Street Ventures LLC, and a representative said the complex was needed to accommodate the city’s growth.

“It’s definitely a change from the old buildings, but I think it will be a positive change,” said Brian Garmo, who works downtown at GC Properties. “We are proud of this building.

He estimated that the eight affordable units would rent for about $1,000 a month and the other apartments would cost between $2,100 and $2,900, depending on whether they had one or two bedrooms. There would also be room for at least one business at the 4757 Palm Ave address.

Garmo said research showed a parking surplus downtown. While he isn’t worried about the project going off the rails, Garmo said he’s open to changing the design to address safety concerns.

Councilman Bill Baber said some trees planned near the southeast corner of Palm Avenue and Allison Avenue could worsen driver visibility.

“This is one of the most dangerous intersections in La Mesa,” Baber said.

Several people were upset that they hadn’t heard of the proposal sooner.

“This project doesn’t fit,” said mayoral candidate Kristine Alessio. Downtown, known as the Village, “sets us apart from almost any town in San Diego – how did we get here when we’re building an apartment building in the middle of it?”

Board options are limited.

The city’s design review board approved the project 3-0 in June, and on September 21, the planning commission voted in favor 3-1. Because there was no appeal, city staff said council could only rule on the design of the building, not the more important question of whether it should exist.

Kerry Kusiak, La Mesa’s director of community development, said leaders could only stop the project for public safety reasons, though City Attorney Glenn Sabine said an effort to stop the project might violate state law.

California lawmakers have repeatedly allowed developers to circumvent local rules in an attempt to build homes in a housing-strapped state.

Council member Colin Parent suggested that the benefits of the building outweighed the disadvantages.

“I am very committed to allowing more people to have the same access to the Village that I had when I moved here,” he said.

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