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MTS approves 390 affordable apartments on trolley parking lot

An artist's rendering shows the proposed affordable housing complex adjacent to the Palm Avenue trolley station.
Metropolitan Transit System
An artist's rendering shows the proposed affordable housing complex adjacent to the Palm Avenue trolley station.

Metropolitan Transit System board members on Thursday approved a 390-unit affordable housing complex to be built next to a South Bay trolley station.

The project, called Palm City Village, comprises four buildings on the roughly 4-acre parking lot at the Palm Avenue trolley station. It also features outdoor recreation space and a childcare facility.

Board members delayed a vote on the project last month over concerns about the loss of parking spaces at the trolley station. Parking surveys found the lot sits mostly empty much of the time. The project would also be built in phases, so the parking loss would likely be spread out over several years.

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Jesse O'Sullivan, policy counsel for the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, said concerns about the supply of parking at a public transit hub are misguided.

"The best way of increasing transit ridership and meeting our climate goals is with infill development, it's not with parking," O'Sullivan said. "Furthermore, the more parking that MTS requires, the less housing it's going to be able to build. And the other goal of meeting our housing affordability crisis is also not served by building more parking."

The project was also supported by the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents unionized construction workers, because of the developers' willingness to sign a project-labor agreement that guarantees union-level wages and benefits. Carol Kim, the group's political director, said MTS was the first public agency in San Diego County to apply those standards to a housing development.

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"MTS today is really making history in San Diego for residential construction workers," Kim said.

San Diego City Councilmember Vivian Moreno, who sits on the MTS board, requested last month that a vote on the project be delayed so the developers and MTS staff could further discuss the project's parking strategy. MTS staff are now planning a study on how to accommodate park-and-ride trolley passengers while also reducing the demand for parking with better access to stations via bus, biking and walking.

Moreno said Thursday she always supported the project and was pleased MTS would study the parking needs more comprehensively.

"We can't just eliminate parking and stop there," Moreno said. "We have to develop a better transition option to access the station and actively sell them to our customers."

MTS board approves Palm Avenue development project, 390 affordable apartments