Making it in San Diego: Housing project had big support, still took 5 years

Posted at 6:01 PM, May 22, 2018

There was a rare sight at San Diego City Hall on Tuesday.

A local developer pitched a massive mixed-use complex with hundreds of homes to the council, in front of mostly empty seats. 

"Our focus has always been on creating a sense of place for the entire neighborhood," said builder Gary Levitt, of Sea Breeze Properties.

Sea Breeze Properties plans to transform a 72-acre site just south of the 56 into hundreds of homes, plus offices, retail, and even a hotel and movie theater. The project, Merge 56, didn't get a single 'no' vote from multiple community planning groups.

Some nearby residents even came to the meeting to support the project. 

But even with that backing, it still took five years just to get the council's unanimous vote of approval Tuesday.

Levitt said the delays come from regulations, including environmental impact reports, and cost his company an extra $2 million - about 15 percent of that in city processing fees.

Councilman Scott Sherman said that is one reason we're in housing crisis. 

"At the end of the day all the prices get passed along to the consumer and the price of housing," Sherman said. 

Levitt said ideally it would take two years for a project to get approved. 

"It's a very expensive process and at the end of the day you're just playing with paper," he said. 

The project includes 242 new homes, condos, and apartments. Additionally, 47 of them will be affordable units. 

Two environmentalists did raise concerns about local impacts but the council didn't acknowledge them in their deliberation. 

Levitt's work, however, isn't done. He still has a number of permits to obtain. 

They're administrative, but he estimates it'll be about four months before he breaks ground.