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St. Paul’s Cathedral Puts Its Faith In A High Rise

A rendering shows a proposed mixed-use apartment building next to St. Paul's ...

Credit: JWDA

Above: A rendering shows a proposed mixed-use apartment building next to St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Bankers Hill.

St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral is marking its 150th anniversary in San Diego this year, and alongside that milestone the church is facing a bit of controversy.

On Jan. 28, the San Diego City Council will decide whether a developer, Greystar, can construct a high-rise apartment building next to the cathedral in the Bankers Hill community. The church sees the project as a way to expand its ministry and give it more financial security for the future.

Under the proposal, St. Paul's would sell a portion of its campus at 6th Avenue and Olive Street to Greystar. The developer would then construct a 20-story building with 204 apartments, five levels of underground parking, a courtyard open to the public and two floors of commercial space to house St. Paul's offices.

The church's dean, the Very Rev. Penny Bridges, said the additional office space would allow the church to host community meetings, and the courtyard would hold events tied to San Diego LGBT Pride and December Nights. Also, Bridges added, the project would help chip away at the region's acute housing shortage.

"We're very concerned with the housing crisis, and very pleased to be partnering with someone who will provide some relief. Obviously it's a small piece of the huge picture, but some relief for the housing crisis," she said.

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A likely selling point in the project is the inclusion of 18 affordable homes for individuals and families with very low income — $43,800 or less for a family of three. Some city council members have chided developers for choosing to pay a fee to avoid including affordable homes in their projects.

Opponents have said the building would still be mostly luxury homes and that the new affordable homes were not enough to make up for the proposed demolition of 16 apartments on the property. The apartments are market rate, but commanded relatively modest rents because of their old age.

Photo caption: The Very Rev. Penny Bridges, left, administers communion to congregants durin...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

The Very Rev. Penny Bridges, left, administers communion to congregants during a worship service at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Jan. 20, 2019.

Much of the opposition to the project has come from the neighborhood's volunteer planning group, Uptown Planners, which appealed the project's initial approval to the City Council.

"We're not against the more density; Bankers Hill has been wanting more density," said Leo Wilson, the planning group's chair. "What we object to is the height. We think it's excessive."

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Wilson said the building would cast a longer afternoon shadow over Balboa Park compared to other high rises in Bankers Hill, where earlier development rules limited buildings to 150 feet. He also said the project should include more affordable housing.

But Greystar argues it is precisely the building's height that makes the inclusion of any affordable homes feasible.

Omar Rawi, a senior development director at Greystar, said the building's orientation and its taller and more slender design are meant to minimize the shadowing on Balboa Park. He said shortening the building to 170 feet, as the planning group has recommended, would result in a broader building with a more imposing imprint.

"We'd lose the courtyard, the impact to the cathedral would be profound," he said. "The trade-offs on bringing the height down are just far too great."

Opponents to the project have mostly focused their ire at Greystar and have avoided direct criticism of St. Paul's — a sign of the church's standing in the community. During a recent Sunday morning worship service, Bridges encouraged congregants to show up to the City Council hearing Monday.

"We need lots of people to come out and show your support," she said. "It really does make a difference."

A joint development proposal between St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral and developer Greystar is sparking opposition from some Bankers Hill neighbors, who say the building is too tall.

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