MissionApts-SanDiegoCA_HEROLocation: San Diego
Developer: AMCAL Multi-Housing
Builder: AMCAL General Contractors
Architect: Withee Malcolm Architects
Opened:August 2012
Number of units: 85
Unit mix: Two- and three-bedrooms
Rents: $833 to $1,115

AMCAL Multi-Housing took a risk when it decided to develop affordable apartments on an underutilized parking lot near the San Diego airport.

The site was located on an unimpressive commercial block in an older part of town. Yet, because it was next to a historic brick brewery building and a new trolley light-rail station, the spot piqued ­AMCAL’s interest. The challenges stacked up pretty quickly, however, thanks to the location.

“This site was a contaminated site,” says Arjun Nagarkatti, president of AMCAL Multi-Housing.

In this historic industrial area, there’d been a history of incinerating waste and burying it as fill. ­AMCAL thoroughly documented and tested the lot, noting 4,000 tons of California hazardous waste, which was exported to regulated landfills. The team also discovered the presence of a low water table 15 to 23 feet below the surface, which botched plans for a full podium design. Still, the obstacles didn’t deter the team.

“Environmental remediation typically slows a project down, but this wasn’t the first we’d worked on,” Nagarkatti says.

An alternate parking design, which allowed for high density, was implemented, using tuck-under parking built around a motor court and taking advantage of the slope of the lot. Additionally, the building is made of Type V wood with no concrete, reducing construction costs and keeping rents affordable.

The building’s height was capped at three stories because of airport-related height restrictions, but the structure maintains views of the local brewery and the rest of the Mission Hills neighborhood to the east.

Nagarkatti cites the project as a good example of a successful public–private partnership, which included the San Diego Housing Commission and the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency. “They were very committed to getting this community done,” he says. “They helped us through the process.”