Bearing Down on Plans for Uptown

 

Like most stories about development and density, many of the responses to the city’s plan to limit future density in the Uptown neighborhoods of Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Mission Hills, Middletown and University Heights came down to a visceral reaction to certain types of city living.

Since many readers might have missed the discussion on Twitter or in the comments section, I wanted to isolate a few responses.

For some, the plan is evidence San Diego is clinging to its sprawl-centric development patterns, and resisting its own goal to create urban, centralized environments to accommodate population growth.

 

Another reader implored the city to start reading a publication focused entirely urban life and development issues, the Atlantic Cities.

 

But readers didn’t uniformly line up to tout the environmental or economic benefits of a New Urbanism. Many expressed sympathy for those in the community who, without the downzoning plan, might have density forced on them.

Reader Jim Jones thinks that it’s incumbent on would-be developers to demonstrate neighborhoods can handle growth:

… shouldn’t it be up to the people who want to increase density to show that the infrastructure can handle it, rather than those who want more relaxed and spacious living to show it won’t?

Also, shouldn’t the residents (NIMBY’s if you want to call them that) have a say in how their neighborhood grows?

That instigated an exchange over the limits of property rights when it comes to community planning, from David Kissling:

(Property owners) should have some say in how a neighborhood grows (requiring that infrastructure be expanded as residential density increases), but they shouldn’t be able to demand that government (through zoning regulation) prevents any growth.

If you don’t want your neighbor to sell his or her home to a property developer because they will put a larger building on the lot, then the only way you should be able to prevent it is by buying the lot yourself.

The problem is that incumbent homeowners in desirable neighborhoods have direct financial incentive to restrict growth …

Jones answered:

They are not demanding no growth, but they are using their community influence to protect their property values and limit the crowding.

The Uptown Planners, the community planning group that’s giving feedback to city planners on the plan downzoning plans, hasn’t made a blanket refusal to accept density.

Rather, it’s said increased density is welcome — once the city invests in needed infrastructure.

Maybe the “infrastructure before density” stance is a cleverly disguised refusal to allow new development, as some alleged, but other readers insist the community’s lack of facilities and resources is a legitimate problem.

Terry Shewmaker:

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 vacuum; not without the infrastructure (water, sewer et al) fully able to support it.

Don Wood:

Have you been to Uptown lately? It doesn’t surprise 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 it’s “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.

Developers do pay toward repairing or replacing infrastructure in the form of developer impact fees. Those funds are used to help pay for the projects listed in a community’s public facilities financing plan, though developer fees can usually only cover about 10 percent of the projects’ costs, according to Joe Lacava, chairman of the Community Planners Committee. The city’s general fund must deal with the rest.

Later, Kissling made urged a tax increase to fund citywide infrastructure needs. City Councilman Todd Gloria has proposed something similar.

It’s time for San Diego to seriously invest in its inner-core infrastructure to prepare for 21st century growth. Downzoning these neighborhoods is the completely wrong move, because these are the neighborhoods that are designed to support dense, walkable, low-carbon, transit-oriented development. Relying on developer fees to pay for infrastructure improvements is a horrible strategy, because you only get enough funds for construction, not maintenance, and the costs go directly to the buyer, raising the cost of housing. The time has come for San Diego to implement a sales tax increase, similar to LA’s 2008 Measure R (something along the lines of .25% or .5%) to pay for repairing, upgrading and building new infrastructure in the core urban neighborhoods. This includes fixing crumbling roads, repairing and upgrading water and sewer lines, and funding new transit service to Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, North Park, etc. A trolley line, either on the surface or below 5th Avenue and University Avenue to North Park would allow increased upzoning and denser development in these neighborhoods.

David Cohen argued Uptown is an ideal target for increased density.

IMO, parts of Uptown are well-situated for sensible, density-increasing growth. To give one example, the sections of Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Avenues between roughly Kalmia and Upas (and even a few blocks farther north long Fifth) have ready access to Balboa Park, fairly frequent bus service, numerous restaurants and a scattering of other services, including medical/dental, etc. If height were limited to perhaps 7-10 stories, compatible with adjacent buildings, the added foot traffic from apartment/condo dwellers would support even more businesses.

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.

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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6 comments
Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Let's imagine your utopia where water and sewer infrastructure were paid for exclusively through the sales tax rather than through water and sewer rates. Would people use more water than they do now? Would they waste water? The answer to both questions is yes. So that's reason number two why paying for infrastructure, even partially, through the sales tax or any other means disconnected from actual usage, is irresponsible.

Derek
Derek

Let's imagine your utopia where water and sewer infrastructure were paid for exclusively through the sales tax rather than through water and sewer rates. Would people use more water than they do now? Would they waste water? The answer to both questions is yes. So that's reason number two why paying for infrastructure, even partially, through the sales tax or any other means disconnected from actual usage, is irresponsible.

David Kissling
David Kissling subscriber

To simply focus on the cost without bothering to look at the benefits is extremely foolish, and a major part of this city's political culture that needs to change to ensure prosperity in the 21st century.

xtdave
xtdave

To simply focus on the cost without bothering to look at the benefits is extremely foolish, and a major part of this city's political culture that needs to change to ensure prosperity in the 21st century.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

And it's irresponsible of Kissling and Gloria to push for a regressive tax.

Derek
Derek

And it's irresponsible of Kissling and Gloria to push for a regressive tax.