Why has San Diego gained a reputation for its vacant lots?

Jim Snook has a theory, which he’s gleaned from watching a vacant lot idle in in his neighborhood.

Snook lives in Kensingston, and in recent years, a property at the intersection of Adams Avenue and Edgeware Road was going to be developed into retail space and underground parking — a project called Kensington Terrace.

But “a self-proclaimed protector of the neighborhood,” Snook writes, “circulated a misleading letter around the neighborhood prior to development commencing and subsequently the project was killed, as the City Council wanted to renegotiate the terms of the development.”

The project died. The lot has been vacant since, and today, it is being used as a staging and storage area for a nearby sewer improvement project. Now residents “have to deal with the dirt, rocks and noise that come along with excavators and dump trucks.”

The development plans would have brought local retail and needed parking to his neighborhood, Snook writes. “In the end, we now have a vacant lot full of heavy equipment, instead of another developed corner like that across the street.”

What conclusions has Snook reached from the saga revolving around his neighborhood’s vacant lot?

There is an anti-development sentiment in San Diego and this probably isn’t news to you. For sure, residents worry about water, fire protection and other needs being stretched by development in the rural parts of the county, and for good reason.
But the resistance to development spills over into established neighborhoods like mine. Kensington has a historical feel to it, and the people who make up Kensington want it to be something different than San Diego’s first housing tract. The truth, however, is that Kensington is a desirable neighborhood only due to the maintenance and development of the individual properties that’s carried on over the years…

In another part of town, Sherilin Heise needs one of those vacant lots.

She’s been on the hunt for one she can use to expand her business, even if only temporarily. She grows lettuce on raised water beds, and says she can make vacant lots more productive until they’re ready for development.

I have 5,000 heads of lettuce growing in my front yard on a double lot in Golden Hill. I sell the lettuce out faster than I can grow it. I need to expand to a larger growing area and am looking for a vacant lot to expand. So far I have not been able to find a lot where I can expand…
I have worked with Morse High School and individuals to develop more growers for the upcoming new Farmer’s Market in Southeast San Diego. With my method of growing the beds are fast to set up and the lettuce is ready to sell very fast. If I were able to set up production on a vacant lot, when the lot is ready for development, I can easily move the lettuce beds to a new location.

And in North Park, Daniel Beeman says a spattering of small unused, oddly shaped plots of land along Boundary Street, which marks the dividing line between North Park and City Heights, should be turned into “pocket parks” that would provide a peaceful place for residents of the two densely populated but very different neighborhoods to rest and come together.

Since living in North Park I’ve always wondered why we don’t have more parks. My hope was always that more pocket parks would develop in my neighborhood. There are lots of open lots, some irregular shapes/sizes along Boundary Street at Madison, at Meade, at Howard, at Lincoln.

Catherine Hockmuth in Ocean Beach agrees with Beeman’s suggestion.

I’m aware of at least three or four vacant lots in Ocean Beach. Don’t know their stories, but I always wonder about them. Mostly, why they are allowed to just leave them sitting there with an ugly chainlink fence around them. I would love it if we could turn one or two into a community garden and maybe add a couple more small parks.

Have your own thoughts about your own neighborhood’s vacant lots? Think you can help Heise find a place to expand her business?

Is there an empty lot in your neighborhood whose story you want to know? I’d like to go out and find an interesting story, so let me know.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org, or at 619.325.0528, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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