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San Diego Transit Agency Wants to Turn Parking Lot Into Affordable Housing

Article via Lou Hirsh | December 26, 2019 | CoStar

MTS Seeks Developers for Downtown Project With Up to 960 Apartments

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System is seeking developer proposals for what could be a mixed-use apartment project on an agency-owned downtown site, the latest among several moves to deal with the region's chronic shortage of affordable housing.

The transit agency, which operates San Diego's regional bus and light-rail trolley services, envisions a transit-oriented, mixed-use residential and commercial development to help meet regional housing demands and climate-action goals. Officials said the development could be as tall as 40 stories and include up to 770 market-rate apartments and 190 affordable units.

The targeted 2.5-acre project site, next to an office building housing transit agency operations and currently being used primarily for parking and equipment storage, is owned by MTS and is located adjacent to the agency's 12th and Imperial Transit Center at 1255 Imperial Ave., in the eastern portion of downtown San Diego.

Transit agency officials could not immediately be reached for comment on responses it has received, after an initial request period for submissions of interest by qualified developers concluded on Dec. 20. The transit agency will be reviewing those submissions in early 2020 and eventually choosing one or more development teams to submit specific project proposals, and later in 2020 is slated to approve one of those proposals.

The transit agency has also commissioned a development feasibility study by consulting firm Keyser Marston Associates to lay out options for multi-story development that would be compatible with future expansion of the downtown transit center.

At least 20% of future residential development near MTS facilities is slated to be reserved for low-income or very-low-income households, as the transit agency and the San Diego region join a nationwide trend of placing more housing near public transportation.

Like several other California cities, San Diego has among the nation's largest homeless populations and a severe shortage of apartments and single-family homes that are affordable to working families.

The San Diego Housing Federation, a regional advocacy group, has estimated that San Diego County has 140,000 families in need of affordable housing, including households headed by full-time police officers, hotel workers, maintenance workers and those in other industries who can't afford to rent or buy local housing.

San Diego and other California cities have sought to address the problem with nationally watched changes to standards for rent pricing, zoning, building heights, parking requirements and transit-friendliness, among other factors.

San Diego has also moved to encourage accessory dwelling unit construction, and the city has ballot measures coming before voters in 2020, aimed at financing affordable housing projects and services geared to the homeless.

Downtown San Diego, especially East Village, has seen a boom in apartment construction over the past five years, though most of the units delivered to market have been higher-priced luxury apartments not affordable to many local households.

The Metropolitan Transit System actions follow a recent report by Circulate San Diego, a regional group advocating for sustainable transportation options, which said the transit agency has at least 57 acres of property throughout the San Diego region that could be made available for development.

The group calculated that with accommodating land use policies, MTS properties could support development of 8,000 new homes, with more than 3,000 reserved as permanently affordable for low-income families.

The downtown transit agency site is located next-door to a city-owned parking lot, known locally as Tailgate Park near the baseball stadium, which the city is marketing to developers worldwide for a potential future mixed-use project with residential and commercial elements.

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