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Deal on project will end lawsuit

Adams Ave. plan to be scaled back

By Jeff McDonald

KENSINGTON - The group of residents that sued the city of San Diego to stop development of a three-story retail, office and housing project in Kensington has won some significant concessions from the builder and plans to withdraw its lawsuit. The complex proposed along Adams Avenue, called Kensington Terrace, will be scaled back from 56,000 square feet to 49,000 square feet, and much of the third story will be reduced to limit its visibility from the street.

“We managed to accomplish what our elected officials didn't even try to do,” said Maggie McCann, who lives around the corner from the site and was a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We achieved a much better project that is more sensitive to the impacts on traffic and community character.”

Under the settlement agreement, which was reached late Wednesday, the developers eliminated six penthouse apartments planned for the top floor.

Instead, the building will be limited to retail shops and office space. Three row houses planned along Edgeware Road remain intact, although they will be separate from the retail center. An underground garage also will be reduced from two levels to one.

The developers said they were happy to have the lawsuit resolved.

“This is great news,” said Allard Jansen, who teamed up with Sunroad Enterprises executive Richard Vann to propose the project. “We worked until midnight (Wednesday) hammering out the agreement.”

Developers received a permit earlier this week allowing them to begin removing the first of two early 20th century homes at the corner of Adams and Edgeware Road. Demolition work began Thursday and is expected to take up to two weeks.

Jansen said his company would salvage as many fixtures and other materials as possible. “We're trying to be green and not dump everything into the landfill,” he said.

As originally proposed, the Kensington Terrace project would have risen above much of the neighborhood, a historic commercial corridor of mostly one-and two-story buildings housing small shops, restaurants and other independent businesses.

More than 1,000 residents signed petitions opposing the development, saying it was too big for the property, which is on Adams between Marlborough Drive and Edgeware.

The San Diego Planning Commission approved the development as proposed late last year, and in February the City Council rejected a formal appeal of that decision.

A community group calling itself the Heart of Kensington responded to the council's rejection of its appeal by filing a lawsuit against the city.

The complaint accused the city of violating state environmental laws by failing to conduct what's called an environmental impact report, a detailed study of the development that would have delayed the project for months.

The San Diego City Attorney's Office did not return calls seeking comment about the settlement.

The project is scheduled to be finished late next year. The company must still finish blueprints and other planning responsibilities and will not break ground until early 2009, Jansen said.

In the meantime, the gas station at Adams and Marlborough will remain open for business.

Jansen, who agreed to cover legal bills for the Heart of Kensington, said he regretted that residents had to go to court to modify the development.

“I still think our first project was going to be a great project,” he said. “In some ways I'm a little disappointed, but I also feel a lot of the impact they had is going to make it better.”

Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585;

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Group fights approval of Kensington project

By Jeff McDonald


March 7, 2008

SAN DIEGO – Kensington residents are refusing to accept a San Diego City Council decision to permit the tallest, most dense development in the history of their neighborhood. Earlier this week, a citizens group filed a 27-page lawsuit against the city, asking a Superior Court judge to reverse the Feb. 5 council approval of the Kensington Terrace retail, office and housing center.

The group is also seeking an injunction to stop the development until more thorough reviews can be done.

The three-story, 56,000-square-foot Kensington Terrace would be built on a prime corner of the upscale village, at Marlborough Drive and Adams Avenue.

The development “will cause unmitigated adverse impacts to the surrounding neighborhood character, traffic, historic resources and the overall environment,” states the complaint, which was filed late Wednesday by a group called The Heart of Kensington.

The San Diego City Attorney's Office, which would defend the lawsuit, said yesterday that it would be inappropriate to discuss pending litigation.

Kensington Terrace is a joint venture among architect Allard Jansen, who built the two-story Kensington Plaza across the street; Richard Vann, an executive of Sunroad Enterprises; and two other investors.

Jansen was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.

Sunroad Enterprises is the company that built an office tower in Kearny Mesa despite warnings from federal aviation officials that it intruded on air traffic at nearby Montgomery Field.

The Kensington Terrace project also exceeded community height standards on one side, but the developer was awarded a variance by city officials.

The design calls for ground-floor retail shops and second-story offices. The third story would include a series of penthouses, and around the corner a set of row houses would be constructed.

After a four-hour public hearing Feb. 5, the council voted 5-2 to support the project. Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who represents Kensington, sided with the developer, saying the complex would improve the community.

The Heart of Kensington also has formed a slate of candidates to oppose members of the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee, which supported the project, in an election Wednesday.

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Despite neighbors' pleas, council advances complex

Project planned for site in historic area

By Jeff McDonald


February 6, 2008

SAN DIEGO – Kensington residents were unable to convince the San Diego City Council yesterday that a proposed retail and housing complex would taint their historic neighborhood.

After a four-hour hearing, the council voted 5-2 to reject an appeal of Kensington Terrace, a proposed three-story collection of shops, offices and apartments at Adams Avenue and Marlborough Drive.

A vote the other way would have overruled a November approval by the Planning Commission and required the builder to perform a more thorough environmental review.

Allard Jansen, a Kensington Terrace partner and architect of the project, told the council: “This is a good project with substantial benefits to the community. It is worthy of your support.”

Councilwoman Toni Atkins, whose district includes Kensington, said she was “writhing in pain” over making a decision. But after hours of passionate testimony for and against the development, Atkins made the motion to deny the appeal.

Council members Donna Frye and Brian Maienschein voted against denying the appeal. Ben Hueso was absent.

Opponents of the project criticized council members for their decision.

“We have been left with no choice but to spend our own time and money to protect our rights,” said Gina Gianzero, who lives across the street from the planned development.

As proposed, Kensington Terrace would be the tallest development in the neighborhood. The plans call for about 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, a similar amount of second-floor offices, six third-story penthouse suites and three nearby townhouses. Two levels of underground parking would also be included.

The council was presented petitions with more than 900 signatures opposing the project. Critics say it is too big for the village business district, which dates to the 1910s.

One nearby homeowner has retained a lawyer, who hand-delivered a 19-page letter to council members Monday outlining legal reasons for requiring a formal environmental review. A lawsuit is expected to follow.

“Our part of the process under the law is to enforce (state environmental laws), and we will do that, come what may,” said Margaret McCann, who had filed the formal appeal.

Kensington Terrace is being developed by Terrace Partners, a group that includes an executive from Sunroad Enterprises.

Sunroad is the company that built an office tower near Montgomery Field that exceeded federal height limits and subsequently had to tear down the top two floors.

Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585;

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Kensington Terrace foes appeal plan

By Jeff McDonald UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER December 2, 2007 SAN DIEGO – Part of the same team that built an office tower high into the Montgomery Field flight path – only to see Mayor Jerry Sanders order the top floors torn down – is now involved in another controversial development, this one in Kensington.

This architect's rendering of the Kensington Terrace project, to be built on Adams Avenue, shows what would be the largest development in the neighborhood's history.The plan, which was approved by the San Diego Planning Commission on Nov. 15, is to build 56,000 square feet of shops, offices and penthouse apartments on the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, Adams Avenue.

Opponents of the project, called Kensington Terrace, filed a formal appeal with the City Council on Thursday, so the application remains in limbo. No hearing date has been set.

If it is built, it would be the largest development in Kensington's history. It also would be the tallest; planning commissioners agreed to let the east side of the project exceed the 30-foot height limit by 8 feet.

Kensington Terrace is being co-developed by Sunroad Enterprises Executive Vice President Richard Vann, who has worked for Sunroad founder Aaron Feldman since the two men moved from Mexico to San Diego decades ago.

Salomon Gorshtein, who designed the clubhouse at Feldman's Maderas Golf Club in Poway, is Vann's partner. The mailing address for their company, GorVan LLC, is the same as Sunroad Enterprises' address in University City.

Feldman's office tower in Kearny Mesa drew the wrath of the Federal Aviation Administration when he ignored regulators and built the project 20 feet past the 160-foot federal height limit. In June, Sanders ordered Sunroad to lower the building, and the company finished removing the top 20 feet last week.

In their Kensington venture, Vann and Gorshtein teamed with developers Allard Jansen and Hannah Devine, records show. They formed Terrace Partners, a combination of Jansen and Devine's Patronella Corp. and Vann and Gorshtein's GorVan LLC.

Jansen, a respected architect who designed and developed Kensington Plaza, across the street from the new project, said that to his knowledge, Feldman and Sunroad have nothing to do with the latest project.

“Mr. Vann and Mr. Gorshtein can do other developments that are not associated with Sunroad,” Jansen said.

Vann declined to discuss the Kensington Terrace project, steering all questions to Jansen. In a letter to The San Diego Union-Tribune,  however, Vann was adamant that his employer has nothing to do with Kensington Terrace.

“Any implication regarding my involvement in the Kensington project other than being a passive investor will be totally inaccurate,” wrote Vann, who is in the process of selling a home in Kensington owned by his family's trust, “and any suggestion that this project has any link with Sunroad Enterprises would also be incorrect.”

Critics say Kensington Terrace is too big for the neighborhood and will lure thousands of extra cars to the historic village.

As proposed, it is three stories tall with two levels of underground parking that would accommodate more than 100 vehicles. The retail space is large enough to house a supermarket or 24-hour convenience store – possibilities that residents say would redefine the neighborhood of small, mostly independent businesses.

The tallest buildings in the central business corridor are at Kensington Plaza, where Starbucks is on the corner and upscale lofts are overhead.

Opponents say the community planning board approved Kensington Terrace without adequately informing residents. The city required the developer to alert only property owners within 300 feet – in this case, mostly business and rental owners. Many residents say they knew nothing about the development until after it was approved.

The commissioners adopted what is called a mitigated negative declaration, a fairly routine determination that relieves developers of any requirement to perform more thorough environmental studies.

The neighbors who oppose the project say they will take their case to court if their appeal to the City Council is not successful.

“This street can't handle it. The community can't handle it,” said Maggie McCann, an engineer at SAIC who lives in a 1912 Craftsman home just steps from the planned development.

The mayor, who lives four blocks from the proposed Kensington Terrace and was criticized for allowing the Sunroad project next to Montgomery Field, is not taking a position on the growing dispute.

Land-use decisions are strictly up to the City Council, mayoral spokesman Fred Sainz said. “Sometimes being a good leader is knowing when not to insert yourself into a process,” he said.

Feldman hosted a fundraiser for Sanders during the 2005 mayoral campaign and met privately with the mayor after City Attorney Michael Aguirre sued Sunroad to force the company to lower the building near Montgomery Field.

Sanders waited nine months before ordering Sunroad to comply with federal height limits. After first lobbying the FAA to change flight patterns around Montgomery Field so the building could remain 180 feet tall, Sanders reversed course in June.

Some of Sanders' neighbors are now looking to the mayor to help them convince officials that Kensington Terrace is too big.

“Everyone is incredibly curious (as) to his opinion about it,” said Marg Stark, a writer who lives a block from the planned complex. “It's frustrating that the planning-board rules seem to allow projects of this magnitude to be reviewed without alerting an entire neighborhood.”

Jansen said he is surprised by the backlash against his project.

He said he spent two years outlining plans to interested neighbors and noted that according to city zoning rules, he could have built as high as 50 feet on the west side of the project.

The plan includes wide sidewalks and open patios. The mixed uses will encourage customers to walk to shops and restaurants, rather than driving across the city, Jansen said.

“This is going to be a poster child for future development in the city of San Diego,” he said.

Gina Gianzero, an education consultant who lives across the street from the development, said many of her neighbors support the idea of new development in the village, which dates to the 1910s.

But the commercial strip is too important to alter so fundamentally without wider input from the community, she said.

“There's no question that a project of this size impacts every single Kensington resident – not just those that live within 300 feet,” Gianzero said. “The way things were set up, simply too few people participated.”

Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585; 

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The San Diego Reader, Published on November 15, 2007

Kensington Terrace: Who Knew?
By Joe Deegan

Developer writes persuasion letter to the San Diego Development Services Department. What else is new? Read on.

"Today I was brought into the fold on the neighborhood uprising regarding the Kensington Terrace project," stated Jim Chatfield in an October 30 e-mail to Anne Jarque, the project's manager for the City. "As a real estate developer, one would certainly surmise that I am pro-development, which is generally true. However, upon [review], I am quite surprised to find that the City and the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee approved this project with such little community interaction, and [after only] performing a mitigated negative declaration. This is especially alarming given the seemingly obvious significant impact on Adams Avenue, the adjacent streets, and [the] neighborhood as a whole."

Chatfield, a Kensington resident, is vice president of construction for John Moores's JMI Realty, which in 1998 received rights from the City to develop Petco Park, hotels, condominiums, and retail space on 26 blocks in East Village. Local residents, artists, and small business owners fought the plan vigorously -- and unsuccessfully. But redevelopment, it was said, would help remove extensive "blight" and drive out the homeless population. Then there was the counterargument. It ran: The homeless who leave downtown will flock to peripheral communities. Opinions are mixed as to whether that has finally happened.

Chatfield's e-mail continued as follows. "As I'm sure you know, Kensington residents possess a strong sense of community and pride, partially generated by our bond over a beautiful haven adjacent to a challenging area (El Cajon Boulevard) and a major interstate (I-15). By allowing [the Kensington Terrace] project to proceed in its present form, you jeopardize the charm, tranquility, and above all, safety of this neighborhood. Additionally, Adams Avenue could transform from a pedestrian friendly street into a region serving, transient thoroughfare."

Chatfield seems to mean "transient" in the widest sense. But the word's suggestiveness may not be accidental. A new grocery store in the Kensington Terrace project is a possibility. As things stand now, it would be one of the closest to El Cajon Boulevard in that corridor. Could pristine Kensington become strewn with abandoned shopping carts? A fear about Kensington Terrace among some local residents is that its traffic effects will include movement back and forth from the "challenging" City Heights area. To understand this, consider the history and nature of the project.

The plan is first mentioned on the agenda of the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee for its September 2006 meeting. At that time, the plan, by architect Allard Jansen and Associates, was "to construct 14 residential for-rent units and 28,344 square feet of commercial space on a 0.47 [acre] site." That site is the location of the Emerald gas station, at the northeast corner of Adams and Marlborough Drive. The station has long been considered out of place and an eyesore, a sign of Kensington blight for many neighbors.

Over ten years ago, Jansen built a small development across the street, at the northwest corner of the intersection. Starbucks, Century 21, and several upstairs apartments are housed there. Was he then planning to buy the Emerald gas station site? And does he, wonders Kensington resident Maggie McCann, "already have designs on several vacant Adams Avenue properties on the south side of the street?"

Would that, I ask, be too much in the hands of one developer? "I don't know," says McCann, "but we don't want another Hillcrest going up here in Kensington."

On November 30, 2006, the City sent a Notice of Application to all residents within 300 feet of Jansen's project. McCann tells me that then, over a series of Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee meetings, the full nature of the project unfolded in piecemeal fashion. She tracked its mention in the committee's minutes. On December 13, 2006, another property owner, Rick Vann, announced plans to put up a "new 9-unit building plus 4000 square feet of retail" immediately east of the Emerald gas station. It would later be called Kensington Lofts. And could he get a variance from the 30-foot height limit -- to 35 feet? Allard Jansen then said he would report on the status of his own plans at the next meeting. When he did so, on January 10, 2007, he happened to mention that, by the way, he would be a partner with Rick Vann in the Kensington Lofts project. And the retail space there will be 4156 square feet.

Not until the April 11 meeting was a more extensive partnership mentioned. According to meeting minutes, "Allard Jansen reported that he had closed on the Emerald Gas Station property on March 31. Both that property, and the one immediately east, will be developed in a partnership." The partners also announced "planning [for] 108 underground parking spaces."

In the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee minutes for May 8, plans to do a traffic study for Kensington Terrace were announced. The study "should cover area [from] Aldine to I-15, one block each side of Adams." A revised Notice of Application for the project went out to residents within 300 feet on June 21.

On July 11, Jansen announced in the committee the full nature of Kensington Terrace as "a mixed use development consisting of 16,560 square feet of office, 16,515 square feet of retail, and 19,200 square feet of residential (9 for-sale units) on a 0.78 acre site." The project would now take up the whole block on Adams between Marlborough and Edgeware Road. It would need a height variance of eight feet over limit. There would be 118 parking spaces, though the project requires only 87. "Gas station to remain until permit in hand," according to meeting minutes. "Traffic study indicates new light needed at Kensington and Adams Avenues [a block west of the project on Adams] and a four-corner crosswalk."

From here on, accounts differ, with Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee members maintaining that residents were notified of the extent of the project and outraged residents denying it. The residents also say no meeting minutes have appeared on the committee's website. Maggie McCann writes that "around September 23, a resident distributed a flyer indicating that comments on the DRAFT mitigated negative declaration were due to the City by September 25." But the City sent the draft to only a selected group of individuals and organizations. Again, says McCann, "sometime in October a resident distributed a flyer that there was an agenda item [for Kensington Terrace to be discussed at an upcoming] Planning Commission approve or deny the development permit for this project."

In the meantime, e-mails began flying back and forth among concerned Kensington residents. People who have finally seen the mitigated negative declaration say the project will make available 8000 square feet for a supermarket, 3000 for restaurant space, and 5500 for additional retail space. Many of the e-mails came to the attention of Allard Jansen, who wrote back that he would hold a public meeting on November 1 at the Kensington Community Church to explain his project.

I listened to Jansen give a smooth presentation to the huge crowd that filled the church's sanctuary. He touched on numerous points, among them an odd zoning division of the property; half has a 30-foot height limit and half has a 50-foot limit.Jansen said he wanted to keep the height of the building as low as possible. Still, he needed 38 feet. He would stay at 38 feet, he told the audience, but if he couldn't get a variance on one side, he would have to go to 50 feet on the other. As for following the City's rules and community notification, he was sure everything had been done properly. Before the meeting started, a Kensington-Talmadge Planning Committee spokesman said the night's meeting wouldn't have been necessary if residents would come to the meetings or become committee members.

Jansen also noted that, in their e-mails, community members were throwing around an incorrect number of "average daily trips" from traffic that his project would bring into Kensington. The correct number was 1400 instead of 2400. People didn't realize, he said, that 1000 daily trips already brought in by the gas station would have to be subtracted.

According to Maggie McCann, however, the traffic study was flawed. "Part of their calculation," she tells me, "involved an assumption that the convenience store in the gas station is 650 square feet. But we went in and measured it at 7 feet by 11. So the number of people going into the store is not nearly what they say. And the station's own figures show that only about 200 people go in to buy gas each day.

"Then the study didn't even do what they announced it would. It did not look at the whole stretch of Adams between I-15 and Aldine Drive, nor at the impacts on the streets to the north and south of Adams." One of Jansen's bragging points, McCann continues, was that visitors to Kensington Terrace would enter from an alley in the back. "Residents are now concerned," she says, "that drivers leaving the alley will see how much traffic is going out to Adams and will circulate through neighborhood streets to leave the area. This factor alone shows that the project should be required to produce an environmental impact report."

In his e-mail to city project manager Anne Jarque, Jim Chatfield brought up additional worries. Here is one. "The project," he wrote, "is significantly over-parked at one space per bedroom for the residential and 2.1 per 1000 square feet of commercial. This leads one to believe that the developer is vying for regional serving retail and/or will eventually combine all the parking to serve a 'big box' retailer or grocer. [In regard to] the residential portion of the project...I seldom see this amount of parking even in vehicle dependent suburban projects.

"If I can be of any help in finding a solution that better serves the community of Kensington," concluded Chatfield, "I would be happy to assist." He may get that chance. At last Thursday's Planning Commission meeting, the Kensington Terrace hearing was continued for a week. And the commission gave the parties homework. Meet before you come back -- and iron out some of your differences. 

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