Project threatens restaurant’s livelihood
The Scripps Ranch Park and Ride lot, which the City and Mayor Faulconer have described as “vacant” in their statements, is utilized by ride-sharing commuters and patrons of Yanni's Bar & Grill at 12015 Scripps Highlands Drive.
There are 19 spaces for Yanni's Bar & Grill customers in one lot next to the restaurant and 120 parking spaces in the nearby Park and Ride lot, which is available for use by Yanni's customers starting at 4 p.m. A substantial conformance review (SCR) letter verifying these terms for the owner of the property and Scripps Gateway Freeway Center businesses was included in documents given to the Pihas family when they purchased the property.
In October, the City Council conditionally awarded San Diego Community Housing Corporation (SDCHC) a bid to develop the lot into 60 residential units for veterans and seniors. Once open, the project “will provide on-site case management through the San Diego Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly,” according to the City.
“There is a great need in our community for housing that gives folks a real chance to have a place of their own,” said the Mayor in a prepared statement. “This public-private partnership will help transform these vacant City-owned properties into opportunities that will change the lives of so many of our fellow San Diegans for the better.”
If approved, the housing project is targeted to open in January 2024. At issue is how parking for Yanni's, surrounding businesses and commuters will be impacted during and after construction. Complicating matters is the disputed substantial conformance review, which Yanni's owners contend allows their patrons to park in the Park and Ride lot after 4 p.m.
Yanni and Denise Pihas have operated their business for almost 19 years. They opened a restaurant at the Trident Center in Poway in 2002 but relocated to their current site in 2014 because they said limited parking had hampered growth at the former location.
Yanni's Bar & Grill is located on a well-maintained property, situated between two hotels and conveniently close to business parks, three communities and the freeway. Its 4,000 square-foot dining room accommodates customers for lunch and dinner, and two patios plus another – used on weekends – have allowed the restaurant to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Yanni purchased the property six years ago when he relocated his restaurant, the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (known as CC&Rs) stipulated that customers of Yanni's Bar & Grill could park in the adjacent Park and Ride lot starting at 4 p.m. The lot was developed by the previous owners of the property and has been landscaped, illuminated, repaved, maintained and cleaned by the Scripps Gateway Center Association. The lot has been used by Scripps Gateway Freeway Center businesses in conjunction with the commuters.
“To call this parking lot a ‘vacant lot' is a blatant mischaracterization,” Yanni said. “It's full nearly every single night. To describe it as ‘vacant' is disrespectful to me and the community.”
The Mayor's office contends that the Park and Ride property within the Scripps Ranch community was acquired by the City of San Diego and is not subject to the pre-existing CC&Rs for the Scripps Gateway Freeway Center. The Mayor's office also said that the CC&Rs do not preclude the use of the City property for permanent supportive housing.
“The existence of our restaurant is based on our permits per the existence and our full access to the 120 parking spots of the Park and Ride,” Yanni countered. “How are we going to keep our business without access to parking if we only have 19 parking spots as opposed to 139?”
Available parking spaces are widely considered to be a key component of success for any restaurant.
“Parking is pivotal for the success of a restaurant and accessibility for customers and staff,” said Kristina Owenburg, manager of the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.
Yanni immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1985. He said he arrived with nothing and was one of the few lucky ones to get a Green Card. He worked first as a bus boy then a waiter, attended college and became a restaurant manager.
“All along, our goal was to have our own business,” he said.
“Yanni and I are not against this project and understand the necessity of supportive housing for at risk individuals in San Diego, especially for seniors and veterans,” Denise Pihas said. “However, this project would mean years of construction within the business center, which could result in the removal of the vast majority of parking spaces attached to our business.”
Yanni said that the City of San Diego has not shared any studies of the impact its proposed project will have for his restaurant, Scripps Gateway Freeway Center and the community.
“As of now, we have not been provided with any information as to how many parking spots would remain,” he added.
A spokesman for the City said community input can be voiced when the proposal is presented to the Miramar Ranch North Planning Committee (MRNPC), which would be before the City Council considers a go-ahead vote early next year.
The MRNPC indicated the developer or applicant for the proposed project could present design plans for the public input process providing they are ready and comply with city policies. No presentation was confirmed as of press time. The next MRNPC meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1. Should the project applicant/developer make a presentation, the meeting would be held on Zoom, with a link posted on the city website 72 hours in advance: https://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/profiles/miramarranchnorth/agendas.
The lack of commuter parking if the current Scripps Ranch Park and Ride lot is replaced by low-income housing, is an additional matter of concern.
According to Scott Robinson, senior public information officer for the City of San Diego, there are no current plans to replace the Scripps Ranch Park and Ride.
“The City Council will consider all options, including community input and parking options, when voting on the item early next year,” he said.
Might there be enough spillover parking in the Scripps Gateway Freeway Center and the two neighboring hotels to sustain business at Yanni's Bar & Grill during construction?
“No,” Yanni said. “They don't have enough parking for themselves. The hotels are often booked full and if every room is filled, it's very tight.”