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Navy Housing: Not Wanted in Neighborhood

April 21, 1985|MICHAEL A. FAIRLEY | Times Staff Writer

Robert Dingeman, a nine-year resident of the Scripps Ranch housing development, was not pleased when he learned two years ago that the Navy planned to build 120 multifamily units not far from his plush community.

A 35-year career in the U.S. Army had convinced Dingeman that military housing usually was unattractive, poor in quality and not a positive addition to the neighborhood. While he empathized with the service families' need for housing, Dingeman also realized that, as president of the Scripps Ranch Civic Assn., his first responsibility was to its residents.

Translating his fears into action, Dingeman's first impulse was to try to undermine the project altogether. But instead of fighting the Navy, he chose to get Navy officials and the community working together to ensure that, if the Navy built there, its housing would become an asset to the neighborhood.

After almost a year of meetings between Navy officials and residents working to make the proposed housing compatible with other homes in the area, the Navy agreed to change its design. Dingeman is pleased with the result.

"We feel that this is the finest Navy project anywhere," he said. "I think it should be the model for other Navy housing."

Despite the sensitivity exhibited by the Navy in its Scripps Ranch Pomerado Terrace project, announcements by the Navy of proposed housing projects often bring shudders to nearby residents. They fear the housing will be ugly, will not be cared for, and that the result will be lowered property values for the entire area.

Occasionally, community concern causes the Navy to change course altogether, as was the case three years ago in Tierrasanta when residents learned that the Navy planned to build about 3,500 housing units in Mission Trails Regional Park. The Navy had constructed 2,341 multifamily units in Murphy Canyon 10 years earlier and residents feared that the additional units would result in overcrowded schools and traffic problems.

Because of the public outcry against the project, the Navy eventually decided not to build the housing. Instead, it opted to buy existing homes in communities that were a reasonable distance from Navy facilities. Since that incident, Navy officials have said that future housing developments built near existing communities would be no larger than 100 to 200 units--the standard size of a commercial apartment or condominium complex.

The most recent disagreement over the placement of Navy housing concerns a proposed 200-unit Navy housing development in Chula Vista, which has neighbors up in arms.

The Navy purchased the 34.3-acre site in the eastern part of the city last November and plans to build next year. Navy officials claim they have a severe housing shortage and currently need 6,000 units in San Diego County.

Chula Vistans against the development say they were left totally in the dark about the Navy's plans until the final stages. They argue that the site at Telegraph Point is inappropriate because it is too far from naval bases and isolated from shopping areas. They also say that the $15-million project, which is slated for construction in 1986, costs too much, and that the Navy should consider buying housing on the open market.

Navy Cmdr. Scott Shepard said that if Chula Vistans would look at the housing built near Scripps Ranch, they would see the kind of housing that the Navy is planning for their area. He also said that the Navy does purchase homes on the open market when they are available, and a survey is under way to locate qualified units in the San Diego area.

In 1980, the Defense Department began a policy that allows the Navy to buy existing housing in the community, if it is found six months before Congress approves military housing construction funds for the coming fiscal year, said Jerry Hemstock, a housing specialist with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in San Bruno, Calif.

During the years when the Navy is awaiting funding for housing projects, it surveys the civilian housing market nationwide to see if suitable housing is available.

To be eligible for purchase by the Navy, the housing complex must contain 50 or more units, must be within an hour's drive of naval bases during rush hour, and all the units must be vacant, Hemstock said.

In 1982, San Diego was the only city nationwide where the Navy found housing on the open market, Hemstock said. The Navy purchased three sites with existing housing--one in Poway, another in Lakeside and one on Home Avenue in San Diego. Those sites contained a total of 132 units.

"The housing market (at the time) was such that the Department of Defense thought this would be a good way to acquire housing quickly," Hemstock said.

Buying homes on the open market is good for the community and the Navy, Hemstock said, because it creates less disruption for local residents and it allows Navy personnel to move in immediately, rather than waiting two to 2 1/2 years--the time between approval of a housing project and completion of construction.

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