MTS Approves Affordable And Student-Oriented Housing On Trolley Parking Lot
Board members of the Metropolitan Transit System last week approved plans to build 410 apartments on an underutilized parking lot at the Grantville trolley station, as the agency continues to push development on its real estate.
The project comprises two buildings — one reserved for low-income households with subsidized rents, the other geared toward students with market-rate rents. The project would also preserve 96 parking spaces for commuters who park at the station and ride the trolley.
Jonathan Taylor, a project manager with Affirmed Housing, which is building the affordable units, said the location for low-income housing near the trolley was obvious.
"Maybe they don't own a car, they don't have the ability to ever own one, and it makes sense for them to be near transit," Taylor said. "So that's why affordable housing and transit pair so well together."
Under the agreement, MTS retains ownership of the land and the developers will pay rent estimated at about $883,800 per year. Officials said they are exploring using that revenue to give monthly transit passes to the buildings' tenants.
The developers expect to start construction in June 2020, with the apartments becoming ready for occupancy in July 2022.
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Some MTS board members expressed disappointment the project was not built to the maximum allowable density. MTS officials and consultants hired by the agency said building more densely would have required more expensive building materials, and that the revenue from the extra rental units would not make up for the added costs.
Officials also said because many of the apartments would have multiple bedrooms and because the student-oriented apartments would likely be shared, the two buildings would house an estimated 1,049 people.
Taylor added the site has geological and environmental constraints that made the developable land much smaller than how it looks on a map.
"We're maxing out what we can actually build here," he said.
Other board members were unhappy that the construction workers building the market-rate apartments would not be earning "prevailing wage" — a higher salary that state law generally requires on public works projects and housing built with taxpayer dollars. Crews working on the affordable housing component will be earning a prevailing wage.
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Greystar, which is developing the student-oriented apartments, said mandating prevailing wage on its project would increase the hard costs of each apartment by 27 percent. It said MTS would have to pay the firm $830,000 per year for the project to be economically feasible.
San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez, who chairs the MTS board, said she intended to docket an update to MTS real estate policy that would require prevailing wage on all projects built on land owned by the agency.
One unresolved point of contention is the development of the Alvarado Creek Revitalization Study, which envisions flood mitigation measures and pedestrian improvements north of the apartment buildings. The plan would construct three bridges over Alvarado Creek to allow better pedestrian access between the trolley station and the rest of the Grantville neighborhood.
MTS and city of San Diego staffers have agreed to develop a memorandum of understanding that would guide how the plan can be realized. The plan will likely require review from multiple regional, state and federal government agencies as well as an environmental review and grant funding.
"We want to increase ridership, we want to increase density, we want to make that neighborhood a live, work, play area," City Councilman Scott Sherman, who represents the area, told MTS board members last week. "MTS, the city and the private property owners all should be working together to make that happen."