By Ken Williams | Contributing Editor
San Diego’s Planning Commission voted 6-0 on Thursday, June 1, to approve the subdivision of the historical Truax House property in Bankers Hill into three parcels.
The decision allows the tentative map of the property to be subdivided into three parcels:
- Parcel 1: The corner house at 540 W. Laurel St., which is not occupied.
- Parcel 2: The Truax House at 2513-2515 Union St.
- Parcel 3: The vacant lot on the north side of the Truax House, which leads to the western entry to Maple Canyon.
The Truax House is perched on a hillside and offers a desirable view of San Diego Bay and Downtown. Designated as a “historic resource” by the city’s Historical Resources Board, the building was once the home of San Diego’s first AIDS hospice, operated by Dr. Brad Truax.
The city bought the property in 1966 when there was talk of building a connector highway between nearby Interstate 5 and state Route 163 to the west, via Maple Canyon. Those plans fell through, and eventually the city declared the Truax House as surplus property to be sold to the highest bidder.
Bankers Hill resident Soheil Nakhshab, the principal at Nakhshab Design & Development, was awarded the winning bid last year after his offer of $2.5 million and his pledge to restore the Truax House.
As reported in San Diego Uptown News on May 19, Nakhshab decided not to go into escrow on April 28, as scheduled, but agreed to pay $10,000 every two weeks until the deal is finalized. He said he wanted to wait until the Planning Commission approved the subdivision plans before going to closing.
At the June 1 meeting, the developer reaffirmed his commitment of restoring Truax House and creating a community room to be shared by local nonprofits.
The developer said he wanted to subdivide the property so he could build in stages, in case the local economy tanked.
At the meeting, two neighbors spoke out against the project, led by Al Olin, who owns the house located at the end of the dead-end of Union Street. Olin was particularly concerned that his private sewage system would be impacted by infrastructure improvements the developer must make on that portion of Union Street.
City officials told Olin that he will be able to connect to the city’s sewer after it is realigned and the process will be a simple one that will not require his sewage to be pumped any further distance up the hill.
Charles “Chuck” Kaminski, a local LGBT historian and activist, worried what would happen if the developer sold the Truax House parcel. He asked the commissioners to put protections in writing that any buyer of the parcel be required to preserve the historical building.
Most speakers at the meeting were in favor of the project, including the historical preservation group, Save Our Heritage Organisation, and two other neighbors of the property. A man named Aaron complimented the developer for his environmentally-friendly construction and said his Sofia Lofts project on Broadway is “very beautiful.” A woman named Dalia said the project would “significantly improve our neighborhood.”
Others supporting the subdivision plan included Leo Wilson, representing Metro San Diego Community Development Corp.; Michael Brennan and Mat Wahlstrom, members of Uptown Planners; and Terry Cunningham, former chief of the county’s HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch of Public Health Services and a longtime voice for the HIV/AIDS community.
“Mr. Nakhshab has garnered so much support from the community,” Cunningham said. “We are looking forward to having public space for people to gather.”
The commissioners were united in their support for the plan. Vicki Granowitz, a new member of the Planning Commission, noted how rare it was that the developer paid for a historical report before he was required to do so and before he had even purchased the property. She said that showed the developer’s commitment to the values of those who support historical preservation.
The chair, Stephan Haase, went out of his way to get city officials to reassure Olin, the neighbor, that his concerns will be addressed during the development process.
Lastly, Haase pointed out the project, in the future, may now qualify for ministerial review by staff, meaning that plans for the corner house and the apartment building proposed for the vacant lot might not be required to go through review by the Uptown Planners. But since Nakhshab also is a member of the volunteer advisory group, it is expected that he would give courtesy presentations on his future plans for the site.
Update: At the June 6 meeting of the citizen-elected volunteer board of the Uptown Planners, Nakhshab announced that he had closed on the Truax House property and was now the owner of the three parcels. The audience and board members applauded.