A recurring question has loomed over the long-term plans for revitalizing Commercial Street and neighboring Imperial Avenue east of downtown: Will the local redevelopment agency be involved?

In southeastern San Diego neighborhoods, the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. has taken the lead role in city-funded redevelopment, but the agency doesn’t yet have authority over the Greater Logan Heights area. That’s where the city is about to start the planning process for redeveloping Commercial Street and neighboring Imperial Avenue.

In recent months SEDC has started considering seeking authority over redevelopment in the communities surrounding Commercial Street and Imperial Avenue.

A handful of active residents have strongly opposed the agency’s involvement in the neighborhood, citing fears about eminent domain and about losing their ability to influence the changes they’d like to see.

But some active residents have expressed a willingness to consider supporting SEDC’s involvement in a more narrow capacity along Imperial Avenue and Commercial Street as long as it stayed out of residential neighborhoods. The two main thoroughfares contain fewer houses and more businesses and underused industrial buildings in need of a boost than the nearby neighborhoods.

SEDC could get involved, but would not necessarily have to, said Karen Bucey, the city’s planner for southeastern San Diego.

“It doesn’t have to become a redevelopment area,” she said. The planning currently underway could achieve the same land use changes necessary for developing the area that SEDC might otherwise take the lead to accomplish.

When an area becomes a redevelopment zone, a certain share of its taxes are sequestered by a redevelopment agency such as SEDC and used to subsidize development and realize beautification projects.

Revitalization of Commercial Street won’t happen overnight.

The planning process is just beginning of what will be a potentially multi-decade effort to turn one of the bleakest stretches of the city into a compact, sustainable urban community.

The city will not act as the primary developer. At this point, the city’s role will be largely a planning one, creating the conditions for private developers to do most of the work themselves.

But the city plays an important part in revitalizing desolate stretches like Commercial Street even if it does not own the land or is not constructing buildings itself. The city controls zoning, and a developer can’t build an apartment complex or a restaurant if the land underneath is zoned for industrial use.

Only the City Council can rezone a piece of land. The planning process now underway is the first step in getting that land rezoned to achieve the city’s goals for the area.

The challenge could come in securing money that the city could use to provide incentives to lure developers hesitant to invest in a poor community. That, SEDC has said, is the role that it could assume to promote growth along Commercial Street and Imperial Avenue.

— ADRIAN FLORIDO

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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