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Civic Center housing takes a step forward

Jeff Clemetson | Editor

Revamping La Mesa’s Civic Center has been a priority for the city for some time — and it looks like some progress toward that goal may be happening soon.

At the Nov. 27 City Council meeting, Paul Marrow of Kaiser Marston Associates presented a financial feasibility study on the best way to convert the former La Mesa Police headquarters site into housing.

Citing the study, Marrow said that the “highest and best usage” for the 1.2-acre site is a multi-family housing complex. The study envisioned a project with 104 units averaging 873 square feet each in a four-story building and 138 parking spaces.

The Kaiser Marston study looked at five possible scenarios for developers to finance a project at the site. Scenario one would be to have the project be 100 percent market rate housing; scenario two would be 80 percent market rate and 20 percent moderate-income housing; scenario three would be 80 percent market and 20 percent low-income housing; scenario four would be 100 percent affordable housing using a 9 percent tax credit; and the final scenario would be 100 percent affordable using a 4 percent tax credit and funding from the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

Marrow said the cost to build the project for all five scenarios would be nearly the same, between $34.5 and $34.7 million. However, developers would only make money on the first two scenarios — $2 million for the 100 percent market rate scenario and under $500,000 for the 80 percent market and 20 percent moderate income housing. On the last three scenarios, diminished land values would require the city to subsidize the housing projects. According to the report, the first two scenarios would also increase the residual value of the land, and the developer would be able to offer more than 20 percent of the housing to moderate-income residents.

During discussion, Vice Mayor Colin Parent offered a different idea for what developers can do with the added savings from the increased value to the property.

“The developer comes along and says ‘We need to figure out how to incorporate this $2.6 million, and so we’re going to 40 percent moderate.’ OK, that’s one option,” Parent said. “I want to also design [any deal with developers] in such a way that if someone says, ‘We still only want to have only 20 percent of the units as deed restricted, but we want a certain number of them to be more deeply affordable.’ I want them to be able to propose that for our consideration.”

Parent also said the property should only be offered as a long-term lease because of its proximity to city offices and the trolley station. Mayor Mark Arapostathis agreed and pointed to the recent long-term lease of another city-owned property on Murray Drive that is being developed as senior housing as a blueprint for successful lease developments.

After the report and discussion, the City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to issue requests for proposals to developers using the scenario two option.

—Reach Jeff Clemetson at

Source: La Mesa Currier

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