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Congressman Scott Peters (D-52) and historic preservationists Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), have joined the battle to preserve North Chapel in Liberty Station, formally requesting an investigation by the City Attorney into a commercial lease for the historic church.

“Several members of the community, including SOHO, have contacted my office to express their concerns regarding the leasing by the McMillin Co. of the North Chapel to a commercial tenant, which they claim violates the guidelines for the treatment of historic properties at the Naval Training Center,” Peters wrote in a Nov. 5 letter to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District 2 Councilmember Lorie Zapf. “North Chapel was built in 1942 as a place for worship for Naval Training recruits and service members. Since then, the U.S. Department of the Interior has designated North Chapel as a National Historic Place … Of concern is the protection of the historical significance of this chapel, which for many sailors was their last place of worship before they deployed for World War II,” the letter reads.

Anna Vacchi, City public information officer, confirmed City staff is reviewing a request from McMillin to consider the sale of all or part of its 66-year master lease at Liberty Station, including the North Chapel.

“I cannot comment on anything related to what is currently being reviewed, because the review is in progress,” Vacchi said.

In the 1990s, McMillin Cos., Liberty Station’s developer, acquired a long-term lease for redevelopment of the former 361-acre former Naval Training Center, which had been turned over to the city by the Navy.

North Chapel has been used in recent years by two Catholic congregations. Arguing that the chapel site has been “underutilized” as justification for leasing out its space, McMillin originally told both congregations they would continue to be allowed to use the chapel until June of this year. But McMillin extended that deadline until Dec. 31 to allow more time to find a suitable alternate tenant.

SOHO, the oldest countywide historic preservation organization in California, is voicing its own concerns regarding proposed restaurant reuse for North Chapel at 2881 Roosevelt Road in Liberty Station.

“It now appears that McMillin Co. has sold the ground lease for the retail component of Liberty Station, which includes the North Chapel, to Pendulum Property Partners, an action that lacks transparency and ignores McMillin’s obligations to the public as part of their contract with the City of San Diego,” said SOHO in its letter. “We are requesting that North Chapel remain open and accessible to the public well beyond December 2018, and that the City Council request an investigation as to if McMillin followed the correct process in selling their retail ground lease at Liberty Station.”

Ron Slayen, an artist in the Arts District who has been lobbying to preserve the status quo of North Chapel, told the Council: “It will only take one of you to make this happen: formally ask the City Attorney's Office to investigate the leasing of the historic North Chapel.”

at Liberty Station. I am confident that one council member will courageously step forward and formally request a City Attorney investigation of McMillin Co.”

Since 1942, North Chapel on the corner of Roosevelt and Truxtun has served as a Naval worship site. The chapel has also been rented out for weddings, funerals and special events.

Characterizing North Chapel as “a very sacred and significant historical building,” SOHO described plans to close the chapel by year’s end for “interior renovations” as “suspect.”

“It strongly suggests the interior will be altered, such as removal of the pews, which goes against the NTC Precise Plan and the Historical District Guidelines,” said SOHO’s letter. “The pews are considered historical fabric and cannot be removed without review and approval by Historical Resources Board staff, in addition to a permit, according to the San Diego municipal code.”

Noted Jerry Lohla, a current member of the Peninsula Community Planning Board and a retired Naval officer speaking on his own behalf, “I can attest that North Chapel is revered throughout the Naval Service as a place of ecumenical worship and as a place for paying final respect to fallen shipmates. That North Chapel’s pulpit and pews might be replaced by restaurant seating and/or a bar represents developer rapacity at its worse.”