More People, Fewer Homes in Uptown

More People, Fewer Homes in Uptown

Photo by Grant Barrett

A neon neighborhood sign on Park Boulevard in University Heights.

 

The city’s plan for growth broadly envisions a network of compact urban neighborhoods where people live close to their jobs, public transit and retail.

So why does the latest blueprint for Uptown, a central urban neighborhood that seems to fit the city’s mold for growth, call for a big drop in residential density?

Uptown, the area including Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, Middletown and some of University Heights, got the green light to update its 1988 community plan just after the city passed its new general plan in 2008.

The area is well served (by San Diego standards) by public transit — especially once a planned rapid bus service in the area begins running — and is home to multiple commercial centers, but in a draft land use map released in July, the city calls for downzoning, or decreasing the allowed housing units per acre, in a number of areas.

It would drop the highest allowed amount of residential density by 32 percent, affecting the central core of Hillcrest, as well as the 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue corridors in Bankers Hill. It calls for other residential density decreases that would affect Hillcrest’s medical center area, the University Avenue corridor, the west side of Park Boulevard in University Heights, the Mission Hills commercial core and the nearby residential area off Goldfinch Street.

Underscoring the seeming contradiction between the proposal to cut back on housing development in the area and the city’s general growth plan are regional expectations that Uptown will take on more people.

In its 2050 Regional Growth Forecast, the San Diego Association of Governments (or SANDAG, a regional planning agency) projected the area’s population to grow at a steady rate over the next 40 years, from roughly 36,000 in 2008 to over 58,000 by 2050, a 59 percent increase.

Accommodating that growth would require 10,000 additional housing units.

“It can be considered contradictory, but the thing we ran into is that we lack infrastructure,” said Beth Jaworski, chairwoman of the Uptown Planners, the community planning group that carries an advisory role in shaping the update.

“You can’t just densify and continue to neglect infrastructure,” she said. “We are willing to accept density if we have facilities to support density. If the city isn’t going to invest in our community, we aren’t going to support increased density.”

The “infrastructure before density” mindset made its way into a December progress report on all the community plans currently seeking updates delivered by Kelly Broughton, head of the city’s development services department. He listed it as the top priority of the Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill communities.

In response to community concerns — some of the business owners in the commercial cores didn’t like the plan to limit new housing — city staff said the downzoning proposal was an attempt to address the area’s lack of public facilities.

“Staff is also evaluating whether public amenities could be incentivized through density bonus mechanisms,” the memo says.

Density bonuses allow developers to maximize or exceed allowed housing units on a given parcel in exchange for providing something else, often affordable housing allotments or public infrastructure investment.

It also said reduced densities would put less stress on public infrastructure, even if the downzoning proposal also had the effect of discouraging redevelopment.

Leo Wilson, the former chairman of Uptown Planners, supports maintaining density targets in Bankers Hill but acknowledged that other areas require different solutions.

He said he hopes the city rethinks the downzoning proposal.

“Preserving urban densities in Uptown is a smart-growth concept,” he said. “They’re trying to incentivize good things, but they’re creating an extra layer of bureaucracy, and that creates more cost and uncertainty for developers and would probably increase the cost of housing.”

The city defended the plan as an attempt to coax infrastructure investment out of developers, but it also specified in the memo that it’s OK to push population growth to other areas.

“Downtown and Mission Valley will continue to add and attract office, retail (general merchandise) and high-density residential development thus limiting growth within Uptown,” the city’s memo says.

The proposed downzoning is measured from a baseline of what’s already allowed in the community plan, not the situation on the ground today. Many areas currently occupied by single-family homes have been zoned to allow for more units for two decades. The community plan only defines what’s envisioned for future development. It doesn’t mandate changes to existing conditions.

“Even if our plan doubles or triples density, it doesn’t mean it will ever be built out,” Jaworski said. “We can put into the plan whatever we want, but a lot of what was already in the plan hasn’t been realized even though we just went through this huge growth spurt with cheap money and development everywhere, and it still didn’t happen.”

The Uptown Planners group is putting together its own draft land use map. It has asked each neighborhood in the community to create a neighborhood-specific map.

It has already adopted a proposal for the Middletown area east of Interstate 5, which calls for mixed-use development near the freeway, unlike the city’s map, which would prohibit new housing adjacent to the freeway due to health- and airport-related concerns. It has also adopted a map for Bankers Hill.

On April 2, the group is expected to vote on a plan for Mission Hills. Plans for the Hillcrest, University Heights and medical center areas could be approved at the same time.

Then the city planning department will decide whether or how to marry the proposals.

“I don’t think that what we’re proposing is going to be radically different than what’s on the table,” Jaworski said. “I don’t think we’re too far away.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Middletown community agreed with the city’s desire to prohibit housing near Interstate 5. We regret the error.

I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter:

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Andrew Keatts

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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43 comments
Steven Dusseau
Steven Dusseau subscriber

My community wants parcels to be 2-4 acres. We don't want apartment complexes. Typically idiot liberals.

ikihi
ikihi

My community wants parcels to be 2-4 acres. We don't want apartment complexes. Typically idiot liberals.

Steven Dusseau
Steven Dusseau subscriber

This plan is complete liberal non-sense. Liberals are control freaks who believe big government is the answer to everything. In reality it should be up to the local communities to decide how density should work. I don't want some apartment complex going up in my 2-4 acre parcel community.

ikihi
ikihi

This plan is complete liberal non-sense. Liberals are control freaks who believe big government is the answer to everything. In reality it should be up to the local communities to decide how density should work. I don't want some apartment complex going up in my 2-4 acre parcel community.

Steven Dusseau
Steven Dusseau subscriber

This plan is complete liberal bs. Liberals are control freaks who believe big government is the answer to everything. In reality it should be up to the local communities to decide how density should work. I live in Rancho Santa Fe, and I don't want some apartment complex going up full of poor slummy people.

ikihi
ikihi

This plan is complete liberal bs. Liberals are control freaks who believe big government is the answer to everything. In reality it should be up to the local communities to decide how density should work. I live in Rancho Santa Fe, and I don't want some apartment complex going up full of poor slummy people.

Joe LaCava
Joe LaCava subscribermember

ture current"? As I have been quoted, Developer Impact Fees (DIF) was a good concept but is woefully short of generating sufficient dollars to do anything (Somebody factcheck that 10%). Do we lower infrastructure standards? Do we lower expectations for quality of life? Do we pursue Land Value Capture (you "buy" density through extra contributions to the neighborhood per the CCDC model)? Is it Redevelopment 2.0? As others have stated, I too see in our city's current leadership a hope for tackling these questions in our neighborhood thoughtfully and strategically. Population growth will happen. Economic growth needs to happen. Let's get busy working together.

jlacava
jlacava

ture current"? As I have been quoted, Developer Impact Fees (DIF) was a good concept but is woefully short of generating sufficient dollars to do anything (Somebody factcheck that 10%). Do we lower infrastructure standards? Do we lower expectations for quality of life? Do we pursue Land Value Capture (you "buy" density through extra contributions to the neighborhood per the CCDC model)? Is it Redevelopment 2.0? As others have stated, I too see in our city's current leadership a hope for tackling these questions in our neighborhood thoughtfully and strategically. Population growth will happen. Economic growth needs to happen. Let's get busy working together.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

If it had been built with two units per floor, each approximately 1100 square feet, the potential "density" would double with no increase in the size of the building.

fryefan
fryefan

If it had been built with two units per floor, each approximately 1100 square feet, the potential "density" would double with no increase in the size of the building.

Omar Passons
Omar Passons subscribermember

As for whether to embrace density, all I can say is even in Uptown many of the people involved have realized the importance of increases in density to handle population growth and the need for better transit alternatives along the way. Density is coming, the only real question is where. The Downtown San Diego Partnership has indicated a willingness to accept significant density--and has the infrastructure to support it. I believe communities like North Park, University Heights and Hillcrest can benefit from density, both in terms of housing affordability and increases in the diversity of businesses willing to locate in the area.

omarpassons
omarpassons

As for whether to embrace density, all I can say is even in Uptown many of the people involved have realized the importance of increases in density to handle population growth and the need for better transit alternatives along the way. Density is coming, the only real question is where. The Downtown San Diego Partnership has indicated a willingness to accept significant density--and has the infrastructure to support it. I believe communities like North Park, University Heights and Hillcrest can benefit from density, both in terms of housing affordability and increases in the diversity of businesses willing to locate in the area.

Kristin Harms
Kristin Harms subscriber

The underlying assumptions of the "city's plan for growth" really need to be questioned. In my community of University Heights, population has increased only 24% over the last 40 years according to the US Census, but is projected by SANDAG to increase 72% over the next 40. The same is true for the entire Uptown area--population growth has been flat over the last 40 years but is predicted "to grow at a steady rate over the next 40 years." As informed, concerned citizens, we all need to question these assumptions.

Citizen_K
Citizen_K

The underlying assumptions of the "city's plan for growth" really need to be questioned. In my community of University Heights, population has increased only 24% over the last 40 years according to the US Census, but is projected by SANDAG to increase 72% over the next 40. The same is true for the entire Uptown area--population growth has been flat over the last 40 years but is predicted "to grow at a steady rate over the next 40 years." As informed, concerned citizens, we all need to question these assumptions.

David Kissling
David Kissling subscriber

Infrastructure for the increased development must be demanded, paid for and built (see my post above), but the increased housing density must be allowed to happen. To fight new housing because of "existing neighborhood character" is the ultimate greed. You weren't the first person to live in your neighborhood and you shouldn't have the right to prevent new residents from moving in.

xtdave
xtdave

Infrastructure for the increased development must be demanded, paid for and built (see my post above), but the increased housing density must be allowed to happen. To fight new housing because of "existing neighborhood character" is the ultimate greed. You weren't the first person to live in your neighborhood and you shouldn't have the right to prevent new residents from moving in.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

They are not demanding no growth, but they are using their community influence to protect their property values and limit the crowding. Not too much different than shooting down that small power plant near the dump a couple months ago.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

They are not demanding no growth, but they are using their community influence to protect their property values and limit the crowding. Not too much different than shooting down that small power plant near the dump a couple months ago.

Java Joe
Java Joe subscriber

transit system and infrastructure can take place. Look at all the single-story structures in the area--that's wasteful! Look at what was done with the new Von's on Washington Ave in Mission Hills. They built a huge parking lot below street level and put the store above. Imagine what could have been done if they went 4 or 5 stories higher. That could have been the new Mission Hills library location, or a community center, or a senior residential center, or simply a new supply of apartments.

JavaJoe25
JavaJoe25

transit system and infrastructure can take place. Look at all the single-story structures in the area--that's wasteful! Look at what was done with the new Von's on Washington Ave in Mission Hills. They built a huge parking lot below street level and put the store above. Imagine what could have been done if they went 4 or 5 stories higher. That could have been the new Mission Hills library location, or a community center, or a senior residential center, or simply a new supply of apartments.

Leman Russ
Leman Russ subscriber

Cities fund new infrastructure is through fees on new development. The idea that neighborhoods should down-zone until new infrastructure is built is just crazy. That just means nothing new gets built ever. If Hillcrest wants to continue to be a center for urban renewal and innovation, Hillcrest needs new residents and new places for them to live.

LRuss
LRuss

Cities fund new infrastructure is through fees on new development. The idea that neighborhoods should down-zone until new infrastructure is built is just crazy. That just means nothing new gets built ever. If Hillcrest wants to continue to be a center for urban renewal and innovation, Hillcrest needs new residents and new places for them to live.

David Kissling
David Kissling subscriber

The problem is that incumbent homeowners in desirable neighborhoods have direct financial incentive to restrict growth. Basic economics means that price is determined by supply and demand, so if the demand increases but supply doesn't, then the price will rise. NIMBYs shouldn't be able to block growth simply because they want to get rich by inflating the price of their houses through government regulation.

xtdave
xtdave

The problem is that incumbent homeowners in desirable neighborhoods have direct financial incentive to restrict growth. Basic economics means that price is determined by supply and demand, so if the demand increases but supply doesn't, then the price will rise. NIMBYs shouldn't be able to block growth simply because they want to get rich by inflating the price of their houses through government regulation.

Donna Shanske
Donna Shanske subscribermember

wn or around town at all, so unless we change transportation choices/options, parking, street repair/traffic flow, electrical upgrades - even increasing the number of parking spaces developers must build per unit, I'm for limiting infill growth. (Uptown Planners is also talking about installing bike lanes along 4th and 5th - by taking out a traffic lane - not sure how this would work when the extra cars from the approved developments will all be on line.) New ideas needed!!

dskolasinsky
dskolasinsky

wn or around town at all, so unless we change transportation choices/options, parking, street repair/traffic flow, electrical upgrades - even increasing the number of parking spaces developers must build per unit, I'm for limiting infill growth. (Uptown Planners is also talking about installing bike lanes along 4th and 5th - by taking out a traffic lane - not sure how this would work when the extra cars from the approved developments will all be on line.) New ideas needed!!

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson subscriber

We also need to find a way of steering developers away from historic buildings: that one alone is nearly impossible.

hardcover
hardcover

We also need to find a way of steering developers away from historic buildings: that one alone is nearly impossible.

David Kissling
David Kissling subscriber

This might not be popular, especially in the suburban areas, but the population growth exists whether you like it or not. Either you spend the money to allow the core neighborhoods in the city to grow, or you sit in the traffic created by all these new residents driving to Temecula or Santee everyday. Doing nothing and expecting nothing to change is not an option.

xtdave
xtdave

This might not be popular, especially in the suburban areas, but the population growth exists whether you like it or not. Either you spend the money to allow the core neighborhoods in the city to grow, or you sit in the traffic created by all these new residents driving to Temecula or Santee everyday. Doing nothing and expecting nothing to change is not an option.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

Yes, the desires of existing residents and business owners should be taken seriously, but I think a convincing case can be made for increased urbanization.

fryefan
fryefan

Yes, the desires of existing residents and business owners should be taken seriously, but I think a convincing case can be made for increased urbanization.

Terry Shewmaker
Terry Shewmaker subscriber

No surprise, in some of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, North Park, Golden Hill date back some 100 years at the very least; University Heights, more than that. No NIMBYism, either. Sheer physical reality: additional density cannot take place in a vacumn; not without the infrastructure (water, sewer et al) fully able to support it.

thoughtfulbear
thoughtfulbear

No surprise, in some of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, North Park, Golden Hill date back some 100 years at the very least; University Heights, more than that. No NIMBYism, either. Sheer physical reality: additional density cannot take place in a vacumn; not without the infrastructure (water, sewer et al) fully able to support it.

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

Have you been to Uptown lately? It doesn't suprise me that local residents are up in arms. Developers have been buying up whole blocks of existing housing, bulldozing all of them and putting up new apartment complexes that are changing the very character of the neighborhoods to make a quick buck. When someone calls them on this practice, they just say its "smart growth". Todd Gloria and the city council are letting them get away with cramming new density into the neighborhoods without paying a penny to help bring neighborhood infrastructure (streets, sewers, water systems, parks) up to existing city standards. Their actions are overloading city services and they're walking away with millions in profits which they share with the politicians via "campaign contributions".

Don Wood
Don Wood

Have you been to Uptown lately? It doesn't suprise me that local residents are up in arms. Developers have been buying up whole blocks of existing housing, bulldozing all of them and putting up new apartment complexes that are changing the very character of the neighborhoods to make a quick buck. When someone calls them on this practice, they just say its "smart growth". Todd Gloria and the city council are letting them get away with cramming new density into the neighborhoods without paying a penny to help bring neighborhood infrastructure (streets, sewers, water systems, parks) up to existing city standards. Their actions are overloading city services and they're walking away with millions in profits which they share with the politicians via "campaign contributions".

Walter Chambers
Walter Chambers subscribermember

What exactly is "lack of infrastructure". I hear this all the time as an argument against density. Infrastructure can mean so much. Are the sewers to small? i'm beginning t believe that the NIMBY's have latched onto "lack of infrastructure" as a way just to stop development. Could someone be specific as to what is lacking and how the lack should stop development?

WaltSDCA
WaltSDCA

What exactly is "lack of infrastructure". I hear this all the time as an argument against density. Infrastructure can mean so much. Are the sewers to small? i'm beginning t believe that the NIMBY's have latched onto "lack of infrastructure" as a way just to stop development. Could someone be specific as to what is lacking and how the lack should stop development?

Holly Nguyen
Holly Nguyen

Low density urban centers? GREAT IDEA. -_-