An apartment building could go on top of this historic house in San Diego

A developer’s proposed design for an apartment building in East Village would put it on top of a historic resource. (Civic San Diego)

Tensions over historic resources and the city’s housing needs may have created a unusual compromise in East Village.

Proposed designs for the latest housing complex would put a seven-story apartment building directly on top of a historic home.

The Ezabelle project at 454 13th St. is a departure from other developments that have moved homes to other locations, but might be a sign of the times as land becomes harder to come by.

“It really feels like this thing literally landed on (the historic home),” said Stephen Russell on Wednesday at the Civic San Diego Design Review Committee. “The essence of it is really no longer in place.”

Developer Soheil Nakhshab said the project honors the historic home by keeping it on the site and the 48-unit building provides badly needed affordable housing. Six of the apartments would be low income, averaging $600 to $700 a month. Other units will average about $1,300 a month. All of the units are studios, ranging from 211 to 348 square feet.

“We all invested a lot of time together to determine how we could retain this (historic) structure,” said Nakhshab, who told the committee about several historic groups it consulted with.

Despite misgivings about the design, the three-person committee approved the project to move forward to the main Civic San Diego board in two weeks. It is still subject to a meeting of the city’s historic resources board and then finally to the San Diego Planning Commission. Appeals over the project could eventually go to the City Council.

Alan Nevin, a consultant with Xpera Group who worked on the project, said it is in the developers best interest to try and keep historic resources on a site because that is what city officials prefer. The San Diego Register of Historic Resources lists as a goal that, whenever possible, historic structures should remain on site.

The 864-square-foot house on the Ezabelle site was built in 1881 and qualifies as a local (not national or state) landmark that is an example of Italianate style.

“In any other neighborhood,” Nevin said, “it would have been scrapped.”

Four residents of the Park Boulevard East condo building adjacent to the site spoke in opposition of the project, saying it would block sunlight to their building, cause more traffic congestion because no parking spots are required, create fewer opportunities for homeownership in East Village and did not look that great.

“I don’t think the incorporation of the historic house is in anyway tasteful,” said resident Anthony Drew. “I think it is an afterthought.”

Samantha Weber, also a resident at Park Boulevard East, said having another low-income project in East Village meant reduced home values for condo owners. Also, she said for East Village to thrive, it needed more condo projects to increase gentrification in the area, still a hotbed of homelessness.

Design committee member Paola Avila said this is the kind of project she may have voted against in the past, but today it is necessary to meet housing needs.

“The housing deficit in our region is a housing crisis, and it’s dangerous,” she said. “These projects are exactly the type of projects I support.”

A criticism of Ezabelle from condo residents was that it won’t have parking. Because the project meets requirements under the city’s affordable housing density bonus, it is allowed to waive typical parking requirements.

Gary Smith, president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group, said the Ezabelle project was basically the result of state law.

“Sacramento said put in a token amount of affordable housing and you can get waivers from every regulation in the world,” he said, “and this is what we’re going to have to live with.”

Nakhshab said if his company was required to build parking, it would not be able to complete the project. The economic analysis by the Xpera Group shows developing the property would cost $8.5 million, increasing to $10.7 million for the construction of underground parking.

As far as the new project blocking views, Russell said living downtown means there is always a chance new developments will affect residents.

“These are foreseeable outcomes of development in a densely urbanized area like that,” he said. “I struggle with that because it is very real to the people who are experiencing it but it is a reality of the condition of those areas.”

Nakhshab presented an alternative design, which he said would come at great expense to the project, that eliminated four apartments directly above the historic home that could make the apartment building seem less like it was placed directly on top. Design changes for removing the floor, or part of the floor, are expected to be reviewed next week by the Downtown Community Planning Council before moving on to the Civic San Diego board in two weeks.

Designs for the ground floor, including the historic home, include 1,794-square-feet of commercial space.

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