The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday to approve Mission Valley’s first Home Depot store despite concerns raised by residents and nearby property owners about traffic congestion.
Councilmember Vivian Moreno cast the lone “no” vote, saying she was concerned about opponents’ claims that city officials didn’t analyze thoroughly enough the new store’s economic and environmental impacts.
The concerns raised by opponents under the state’s rigorous environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act, often lead to litigation seeking to block construction of approved projects.
Supporters said the new Home Depot would fill a void in growing Mission Valley and would reduce traffic congestion in the wider area by eliminating many trips across Mission Valley to other Home Depot stores in the region.
The new store would include a 107,000-square-foot warehouse, an 18,000-square-foot garden center and a 155,000-square-foot multi-level parking garage along Camino Del Rio South.
The 64,000-square-foot Scottish Rite Center would be demolished and replaced by a 40,000-square-foot version that would be two stories and would no longer have an event space for conventions and parties.
While some say the project could turn Camino Del Rio South into a new “big box” district, city officials said such stores make sense south of the freeway in Mission Valley, where there is no public transit or pedestrian accommodations.
Camino Del Rio South would remain two lanes, but there are plans to add a middle turning lane near the new Home Depot.
Residents of University Heights, which is just up the hill from the new Home Depot site, and other nearby areas raised some concerns about traffic last winter.
Texas Street and Mission Center Road already experience significant traffic backups at Camino Del Rio South, and residents say the new Home Depot would make that worse.
“There is no way the roads can support the vehicular traffic for a retail business such as Home Depot,” said resident Clifford Weiler.
He added that the city is being shortsighted by allowing such projects without forcing developers to widen freeways and build additional infrastructure.
“Too many Mission Valley projects are deferring or avoiding future obvious transportation and road improvements by saying it’s too early to determine or address impacts because of the unknown impacts from other uncompleted projects,” he said. “The result will be that at the ultimate end, the city and taxpayers will be burdened by the costs that the developers should have borne.”
John Ziebarth, an architect representing Home Depot, said the new store would reduce the number of miles vehicles travel annually in San Diego by more than 160,000 by making Home Depot more convenient for many people.
Ziebarth noted that high-rise zoning in Mission Valley is expected to boost the community’s population 91 percent by 2050. More than 40,000 new housing units have been approved for Mission Valley, Grantville and North Park.
The store also is expected to be a financial boon to the city, generating an estimated $800,000 in developer and school fees initially and then boosting city sales tax revenue more than $300,000 per year.
Some opponents said they didn’t necessarily object to the project, just the method the city used to approve it.
Instead of doing a separate environmental impact report, the city relied on a broad EIR conducted for an update of Mission Valley’s overall growth blueprint in 2019.
Those concerns are what Councilmember Moreno said prompted her to vote against the project.
Councilmember Raul Campillo, whose district includes Mission Valley, said he was comfortable with the process used by the city after asking a series of detailed questions during the hearing.
Councilmembers Joe LaCava and Monica Montgomery Steppe said they had initial concerns about the proposal, but they were satisfied by the answers Ziebarth and city staff gave to Campillo.
In December, the Mission Valley Community Planning Group voted 14-4 in favor of the project.
Historic preservationists have objected to the demolition of the 64-year-old Scottish Rite Center building, site of the upscale Bowlero bowling alley from 1957 to 1964.
Home Depot has agreed to incorporate some of Bowlero’s design, called Googie architecture, into the entrance of the new building.