Jeff Clemetson | Editor
San Diego Planning Commission approves Discovery Center at Grant Park project
With a unanimous vote on Sept. 20, the San Diego Planning Commission gave the green light to the Discovery Center at Grant Park project — a 17-acre nature park along the San Diego River at 2450 Camino del Rio North.
The Discovery Center project is a collaboration between the Grant family, which donated the land, and the San Diego River Park Foundation (SDRPF).
“Discovery Park has been a dream of our organization and many others for over a decade,” said SDRPF president and CEO Rob Hutsel.
The now-approved project, in the permitting process for four years, will include two buildings with just less than 10,000 square feet of space to house classrooms for education programs, meeting rooms for the community, a refreshment stand, an interpretive area, a hands-on area for kids to research river-related topics, a conservation action workshop area, and office space. However, the majority of the project acreage will be land restored to its natural habitat.
In addition to providing Mission Valley with much needed park space, Hutsel said he hopes the Discovery Center will “tell the river’s story and promote its stewardship.”
Alan Grant, who spoke on behalf of his family, said the $11 million land could have been developed into a high-rise hospital or hotel, but that the Grants decided “the best and highest use for the property is a park.”
Many individuals representing educational, recreational, environmental, and government groups and organizations, as well as the commissioners themselves, gave praise and showed support for the project at the Planning Commission meeting.
Planning Commission chairman Stephen Haase predicted the vote would be “quite a celebration” for SDRPF and commissioner Douglas Austin predicted that once completed, the project would be awarded for its design.
Commissioner Dennis Otsuji praised the project but said that the parking lot could be smaller and lamented that the property isn’t closer to a trolley stop. Vice chair Susan Peerson also expressed some disappointment that the path through the park, which will be part of the San Diego River Park trail system, starts and ends along the sidewalk of Camino del Rio North and wasn’t continually by the river.
Commissioner Vicki Granowitz raised a concern about the number special events that will be allowed to be held there. The Discover Center will be available for 12 public events per year that have more than 188 people and a cap of 350. Hutsel said the special events will be for “celebration of life” events such as weddings, and assured the commission that access to the trails and majority of the park itself won’t be impeded during the events.
When the unanimous vote was read, the gallery of supporters — there were no speakers present to oppose the project — erupted in applause.
With the approval of the Planning Commission, SDRPF can restart its funding effort, which Hutsel said they put on hold more than two years ago while the project was in the permitting phase. The estimated cost of the project is around $8.5 million, Hutsel said, and before the fundraising effort was put on hold SDRPF had raised close to $2.5 million of that.
Now that the Discover Center has been approved, Hutsel hopes to see more pledges for funds come in. He shared that there were several people who had expressed interest in supporting the project, but wanted to wait until they knew it could be built.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.