The San Diego City Council declined Monday to grant various approvals for a long-planned religious tourism and conference center in Mission Valley, citing concerns over increased traffic.
The approvals would have cleared the way for the Legacy International Center on the 18-acre site of the former Mission Valley Resort.
The 5-4 party-line vote, with Democrats in opposition and Republicans in support, did not mean an outright rejection of the facility proposed by televangelist Morris Cerullo. On a subsequent unanimous vote, the council requested that the item to come back before them next month, giving the developers time to iron out the traffic worries.
City staffers assured the council that the project would not result in any unmitigated traffic impacts. But some were unconvinced, with Councilman Chris Ward recalling the “gross impacts” in the area of last week’s geyser on Interstate 8, which bottled up traffic for miles around.
“I think (it’s) a well-intentioned project, but it’s just not maybe the right location,” Ward said.
The project would encompass five buildings, including a new 127-room hotel and restaurant. It would also have a replica of Jerusalem’s wailing wall and a domed theater featuring biblical films.
Before the council were an environmental impact report and development permit, along with amendments to zoning plans.
The project, which was substantially redesigned over the past year, got recommendations of approval by the Mission Valley Planning Group and the San Diego Planning Commission. Councilman Scott Sherman, whose district includes the project area, said the project applicants had gone to great lengths to conform to what city staffers and community members had asked of them.
“If … they’re doing everything by the rules that the city sets forward, we can’t, nor should we, find against them,” Sherman said.
Opposition came from members of San Diego’s LGBT community, who primarily voiced concerns about the potential for traffic impacts. Cerullo has come under criticism for his practice of faith healing, his fundraising practices and embrace of the widely discredited ex-gay movement.
As the hearing started, the City Attorney’s office cautioned the council members and public that the decision could only be based on land use issues. Opposition to the religious nature of the facility was raised by only a couple of members of the public.
A separate hearing on a major renovation project for the oldest hotel in Mission Valley was postponed at the last minute. Plans call for building an 840-unit residential development and establishing a 3.3-acre river park and reducing the number of guest rooms from 954 to 700 at the 64-year-old Town & Country Resort and Convention Center.
That project and the Legacy International Center are expected to be heard on Oct. 17.