A popular, long-time gardening store in the Morena District now stands in the destructive path of progress.
Its customers are mobilizing in hopes of keeping it from being swept away as part of a $1.7 billion construction project to extend the San Diego's Trolley system nearly 12 miles north from Old Town to UC San Diego and University Towne Center.
One of eight new transit stations along the Trolley extension will be installed along Tecolote Road.
And, to the dismay of employees and customers, the nearby outlet of Armstrong Garden Centers is being targeted for a 256-space parking lot to serve commuters.
The site has been in use as a nursery for decades.
Armstrong store manager Bill Albert says the operation helps draw business to other, bigger retailers such as Toys R Us and Jerome’s Furniture on West Morena Boulevard.
While the company is in favor of mass transit, Albert says it wishes SANDAG – the region’s transportation planning agency -- could find an alternative: "Hopefully, they're not just set on one solution. Hopefully, there's a couple other solutions that could make it work for both sides."
Failing to find a win-win situation, the store would get relocation benefits and assistance -- but no guarantee of new space in this marketing area.
So, customers are being urged to lobby SANDAG directors at their Nov. 15 hearing on trolley extension project issues.
"But people have to show up, people have to express how they feel, and that's the problem,” Armstrong customer Linda Stolba said on her way into the store Thursday afternoon. “ People don't do that anymore. They just get very complacent. We feel like we don't have any power. It's all been taken away from us."
According to Jim Linthicum, SANDAG’s director of mobility, the agency evaluated six possible alternatives but concluded that none worked as well -- from financial and logistical standpoints – as the Armstrong site.
"It maximizes the use of public right-of-way -- the land that's owned (encompassing part of the Armstrong operation) right now by the city of San Diego,” Linthicum said in an interview Thursday. “ At the same time it minimizes impacts to the business community."
Said John Zappala, a Mission Valley resident, as he waited at the Old Town trolley station for a ride downtown: "You're talking about taking it to another college, right? Very important. So I would say, do it. Just do it carefully -- and gracefully."