In the next few months, the San Diego City Council will be asked to approve new zoning rules for its largest community.

Otay Mesa, the sprawling community in the city’s southeast edge along the Mexican border, represents a major hunk of the city’s attempts to update its aging community plans; at over 9,000 acres it’s more than six times the size of North Park.


And unlike most of the rest of the city, Otay Mesa’s home to undeveloped parcels that allow for entirely new projects.

The new plan also includes the community’s infrastructure needs list, and seeks to raise the fees charged on new development in order to help pay for them.

Now, after more than 10 years in the works, the city’s planning department is bringing the plan forward for approval. The local planning group recommended approval of the plan in November, and the city’s Planning Commission is likely to hold its vote this month. The City Council could have its say by spring.

“The plan is intended to define new strategies for the way Otay Mesa would develop and function over the next 20-50 years,” says a summary of the plan by the city’s planning department.

The summary spells out the plan’s goals, developed through a series of community meetings.

 Establish Otay Mesa as a bi-national regional center

 Increase employment and growth by diversifying economic activities

 Expand the industrial base

 Support businesses dealing with cross-border trade

 Build all types of housing and lots of it, and put it near jobs

 Create places where you can live, hang out, shop and work without leaving

 Make sure development works with regional transit investments

 Protect canyons and other sensitive areas

 Identify infrastructure needs and a way to pay for them

 Be environmentally responsible

The plan as written handles those goals in a few ways. Here’s how the community’s total acreage looks under the existing plan (adopted in 1981), and under the new one.

The increase in open space, which becomes the largest category of land in the new plan, comes at the expense of both industrial and residential acreage. That’s thanks to the city’s adoption of its Multiple Species Conservation Program in 1997, which restricts development in some areas.

Rob Hixson, chair of the Otay Mesa Planning Group, said there’s a misconception about the amount of land available for development because so much is protected.

“The problem is, people go down and see all this land, and think there’s huge land area to develop, but there’s really not,” he said. “If you look at each area and what you can actually do, it’s not a lot.”

In all, the new plan increases the number of homes that can be built in the community by 50 percent, adding 6,374 units to bring the community’s potential supply to 18,774 units.

One of the ways it accounts for those new units is by creating the “village area” classification, which is predominantly reserved for residential development.

The plan uses that classification to designate two large areas as sites for “compact village core areas with densities that support transit-oriented development.”

Deciding what those areas will actually allow for will be done through two subsequent amendments to the plan, using something called a specific plan.

Hixson said the success of the whole community plan rests on those two village areas.

“Everything is reliant on everyone else,” he said. “Take something out now, it all fails. (Developers in the two village areas), those guys will pay more in fees than anyone else. If you take those away, the whole plan fails. We’re relying on those two communities to come through.”

After 10 years of disagreement between community members, property owners and planners over the best location for those villages, Hixson said locations identified in the plan are just about right.

“We’ve always had this idea that we need worker housing, and affordable housing, because there is this flow of people going north,” he said. “So I think we did need that.”

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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