Housing project cancelled at Park & Ride site
By Colleen McNatt
A proposed 60-unit residential complex for veterans and seniors experiencing homelessness designated last year for a city-owned Park and Ride lot in northwest Scripps Ranch, 12016 Scripps Highlands Drive, was cancelled last month, ending a long process and resulting in approximately $50,000 in legal costs for the owners of Yanni’s Bar & Grill.
Yanni and Denise Pihas, owners of Yanni’s Bar & Grille, have owned restaurants for 19 years, with seven of those at the 12015 Scripps Highlands Drive location. The restaurant has 19 dedicated parking spaces for patrons and shares overflow parking after 4 p.m. with the 1.42-acre Park and Ride site – opening up an additional 120 spots. When the couple purchased the property, a stipulation was granted through a declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions stating customers of Yanni’s Bar & Grill could utilize the Park and Ride area.
If built, the permanent supportive housing (PSH) complex at the Park and Ride site would have satisfied the City of San Diego’s mandate to offer solutions in combatting homelessness in each city council district. The community of Scripps Ranch is located within the city’s District 5. To address chronic homelessness, the PSH model helps individuals by removing time limits on their length of stay and provides additional wraparound services, including on-site case management.
The City Council conditionally awarded San Diego Community Housing Corporation (SDCHC) a bid to develop the Park and Ride location with a target opening in January 2024. Critics of the proposed housing development pointed out the lack of public transportation, employment opportunities and other factors to contribute to a successful PSH community model.
“Our only (request) was to create parking spaces,” Denise Pihas said of the proposed housing project.
The restaurant is part of the Scripps Gateway Freeway Center, which includes other businesses, including two hotels. Without the additional parking, the couple’s restaurant was in jeopardy, Denise Pihas said.
Then the pandemic struck. Before the COVID-19 shutdown, Yanni’s Bar & Grill employed 50 people. Today, the owners are actively hiring, with 38 employees on staff.
“Yanni’s customers took up the cause,” Pihas said, explaining that patrons made phone calls and sent emails to city officials asking for intervention with the proposed affordable housing project.
Customers even added extra tip amounts on their bill and would say, “add it to the legal fund,” Pihas said.
Momentum on the discussion regarding the project at the Park and Ride picked up in 2021 as the new city administration, under Mayor Todd Gloria, and as new District 5 Councilmember Marni von Wilpert assumed office. According to Councilmember von Wilpert’s office, a working group was convened with the project’s developer, community members, business owners and other stakeholders in an attempt to resolve the issues. With no agreement reached, the contract was cancelled.
Scripps Ranch has no alternative location for permanent supportive housing at this time. Councilmember von Wilpert recently voted to approve the 536-unit Junipers project, located in Rancho Penasquitos, which will offer 81 low-income units for people ages 55 and up. The city’s estimated cost to solve the housing crisis and reach permanent housing solutions is approximately $1.9 billion over the next 10 years.