The event was held at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse in Downtown San Diego. | Courtesy Tara Henos

Event Coverage: Diving into SD Waterfront Development

Carrie Rossenfeld Event Coverage

CREW San Diego recently held a lunch event titled “Navigating the Tides of Waterfront Development.” The event, which was moderated by Housing on Merit’s Jennifer Litwak, featured panelists Penny Maus, department manager, business development–real estate, for the Port of San Diego; Donna D. Jones, partner and owner of Law Offices of Donna Jones; and Kipland (Kip) Howard, president of Allegis Development Services.

According to a recap sent exclusively to SoCal Real Estate from a representative of CREW San Diego, the event revealed that development opportunities are available on Port of San Diego lands and are transforming the waterfront in exciting ways, but they can come with challenges.

The challenges are not insignificant, according to the recap. Developing on the public lands of the Port requires approvals not only from the Port District, but also from the California Coastal Commission. Additionally, the panelists acknowledged that development on public lands is often subject to increased public scrutiny and lawsuits and can require a custom environmental impact report.

“If your project requires a CEQA review, you need to have deep pockets and a lot of patience,” said Howard, who is the services and local development manager for the $1 billion-plus, 35-acre resort hotel and convention center planned for the Chula Vista Bayfront.

Interested developers should take note that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) will soon have new guidelines that could improve the process, said Jones, an attorney specializing in land use and CEQA. “CEQA has become misused and expensive.”

The new guidelines, which Jones expects to be issued in 2019, will address protocols for determining traffic impacts, among other concerns.

Another change on the horizon is coming from the Port of San Diego, Maus said. “We have a comprehensive Port master-plan update underway . . . which will reduce the need for amendments and open up opportunities for development with reduced challenges.”

Maus then detailed several projects in development or recently completed at the Port in addition to the RIDA Development hospitality project at the Chula Vista Bayfront being overseen by Howard. They are:

• Portside Pier – The Brigantine’s development of a two-story space at a Downtown San Diego waterfront pier that will house four different eateries;
• redevelopment of parking lots on Harbor Island by Sunroad Enterprises and Oliver McMillan —both companies will present details about their projects to the Port’s board later this year;
• the 400-room, 18-story Intercontinental Hotel that opened recently near Broadway Pier in downtown San Diego; and
• the Central Embarcadero Project under development by 1HWY1 on 70 acres of land between the Midway aircraft carrier and the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

A unanimous takeaway from all panelists, the recap said, was that having someone on the development team who is familiar with developing on Port of San Diego lands is an invaluable asset.

Separately, we spoke with Maus and Jones after the event about the takeaways.

Maus tells us, “It was great for the audience to hear about waterfront development from the perspective of a development consultant, a CEQA/coastal attorney. and a government agency. Having managed many waterfront development projects for the Port, I shared with the audience that I thought some of the keys to success in navigating challenges are understanding the environment where you’re doing business and assembling the right team.”

Maus adds that for many, working through CEQA or with agencies like the Port, Coastal Commission, Army Corps, Coast Guard, and FAA are new, and understanding each agency’s role in the project and their processes can save time and money. “If a developer doesn’t have the experience, hiring experts like a development consultant and/or CEQA/coastal attorney are worth the investment in the long run as they often save the project time and money.”

In addition, Maus shares that she was also pleased to share updates on Port projects at multiple stages in the development process, like the recently opened Intercontinental Hotel, the Portside Pier restaurant project that is currently under construction, and the Central Embarcadero and Harbor Island projects that are still in the early planning phases.

Jones tells us, “I always enjoy giving an overview of CEQA and telling the story of the approval process Penny, Kip, and I all worked on to ultimately achieve approval of the expansion of the Marriott Marquis and Marina Marriott Hall meeting space, Marina Terrace, and Marina walkway. Explaining CEQA in five minutes is no easy task, and I could only provide a brief overview, but I enjoyed highlighting some of its most important aspects.”

Jones adds that she also loves working on waterfront projects, especially those in the jurisdiction of the Port of San Diego. “It’s always an interesting challenge but worthwhile because we are creating a waterfront for the public — both San Diegans and visitors — and hopefully providing reasons for more people to come to our beautiful Bay. The waterfront is the gateway to Downtown San Diego and a treasure for us all. Permitting in a coastal area brings heightened challenges but wonderful rewards.”