Mission Valley’s massive development is bringing excitement and anxiety.
Marco Sessa was bummed. The lights in the clubhouse of the Circa 37 apartment complex — part of the ambitious Civita project in Mission Valley — were on. And it was daylight.
He mused aloud about installing some sort of gizmo that would turn the lights on only when it gets dark, to save energy.
“We’re always learning,” said Sessa, senior vice president of Sudberry Properties, which is developing the project. Being built in a former rock and sand quarry in Mission Valley, the mixed-use project aims to be a model of sustainability and modern urban design.
It’s been in the news a lot because of its scale and ambition. Even The New York Times has written about it. It’s a $2 billion project that will include apartments, condominiums, townhouses, single-family homes, retail and commercial businesses, parks, pools, dog parks, walking trails, tennis courts, an amphitheater … yes, everything and the kitchen sink. Actually, a lot of kitchen sinks, considering there will be 4,780 residential units.
Sessa went to the apartment clubhouse — which features a pool table, sofas, a bar, flat-screen TVs — because of its sweeping third-floor view. From here, one can see much of the construction going on.
Sudberry is working on another apartment complex and housing developments. Big equipment snorted below. Construction workers crawled all over the place. It’s coming to life, this place.
It has thrilled some people, who were concerned about the impact the once-down housing market might have on it. And it has some worried, particularly about what challenges the project may bring to the already-congested Mission Valley area.
Touted as an alternative to suburban sprawl, Civita will be self-contained and offer access to the nearby trolley line and Mission Valley shops in hopes of encouraging people to walk and use mass transit. A pedestrian bridge will be built over Friars Road for access.
The project has been cited as an example of San Diego’s City of Villages planning strategy, which is to create development that’s dense, walkable and mass transit-friendly. Development should also be steered to communities that already have such qualities, according to the concept.
“Infill development is the future,” said Sessa, noting the lack of big tracts of land left to develop. However, what’s rare with Civita is the size of the parcel — 230 acres — that was available for this kind of concept within the city of San Diego. Infill projects are usually a lot smaller.
It’s the project’s scope that has caused criticism. Mission Valley is already considerably developed — and many argue it’s been done poorly. Traffic can be a nightmare. Adding a project of this scale will only adversely impact Mission Valley, critics say.
Former San Diego City Council member Donna Frye was the only council member to vote against the project in 2008 because of the potential impact, but she added this caveat because she was enamored by its possibilities: “I wish it were the first project built in Mission Valley.”
Another problem: Mission Valley lacks key amenities, such as schools. There are none.
Sessa argues it only makes sense to build developments near where people work. You can’t wall off San Diego. People have to get here.
“San Diego is going to continue to grow and we need places for people to live,” he said. “Yes, we generate traffic, but these cars would still be in San Diego. They simply would be coming from some place else.”
Those places, he added, could be far away, such as Temecula, forcing workers to commute long distances.
As for schools, Sudberry is looking at creating a charter school, but Sessa admits that’s going to be a challenge because of costs.
It’s also spending millions to improve road infrastructure in Mission Valley.
The move from quarry to development du jour came because the longtime quarry owner, the Grant family, wanted to do something special with the property.
“But we’re not developers,” noted Alan Grant, a family member.
The Grants liked that Sudberry is a family owned company with long roots in San Diego, and that it wanted to develop the property with a commitment to the environment and create unique, eye-catching, yet functional, architecture.
“It’s been absolutely amazing to see things transforming,” Grant said.
Several projects are complete or nearly completed. Circa 37 has 306 apartments, and they are full. Still, Civita has a long way to go. It won’t be completed until 2025 — that is if market conditions remain favorable.
Civita got a sweet break thanks to rising home prices. A low inventory has created a bearish market. Yet Sessa said there have been challenges. The cost of construction materials has gone up as demand increased.
It takes a good income to live here. Townhomes in the Origen part of the project are offered in the $500,000 to $600,000 range. Some single-family homes — a part of the ongoing Atlana section of the development — feature rooftop terraces and go for as much as $780,000. The cheapest apartment goes for $1,800 a month.
Yet, about 10 percent of Civita’s units will be affordable housing, including a development that will be dedicated to seniors.
Every part of the project has a sustainability component. Even carport rooftops have solar panels. Civita is partnering with San Diego Gas & Electric to create a number of sustainability concepts, such as local energy generation and storage.
The development has a won a number of awards for its designs and green efforts. In 2009, for instance, it received the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. That’s the state’s highest environmental honor.
Now, if they could just figure out how to keep the clubhouse lights off.