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Mission Valley is about to blow up.

Even before we see a plan to accommodate the antsy Chargers and a new football stadium, the snarled center of jobs, shopping and about 12,000 residences is going to about double that number in new homes in the next several years.

Six major developments are in various stages of the planning process. The largest, Civita, is already under construction. The projects are not following any comprehensive plan for the area – each one is a separate change to the 1985 community plan and several other site-specific zoning laws.

The city is only now about to embark on a new community plan update, which might be done right around the time all these projects are nearing the finish line. That means it won’t affect any of them.

Others are rushing into the planning vacuum.

The mayor’s task force, which was given the job of finding a site and financing plan for a new stadium, has begun exploring design and infrastructure challenge issues for the whole of Mission Valley.

“I know we are focused on the site selection and on the financing of a new stadium. It seemed to me that we should look at the bigger area,” said Mary Lydon, a member of the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group and executive director of the Urban Land Institute.

The group she formed includes six stadium task force members, architects and people familiar to the development world like Perry Dealy, president of Manchester Development, which is managing one of the major projects going forward in Mission Valley, the redevelopment of the Union-Tribune headquarters.

It will meet again April 1.

The chairman of the task force, Adam Day, called soon after my talk with Lydon to clarify that the group was not an official part of the stadium group.

I’m not sure why he would want to distance himself from it. A stadium plan will have to consider the broader Mission Valley hyper-development under way.

They’re all coming to the same conclusion: Mission Valley might be able to fit thousands of new homes, but without major infrastructure improvements, a redesign of the many of the portals in and out of the neighborhood and new amenities, it could make an already troubled place a chaotic mess.

The city does have one plan in place that should help: The San Diego River Park Master Plan. City planners assured me all new projects will have to conform to the effort to revitalize the hidden river.

For perspective, taken together, the six projects are about 20 times the area and number of housing units of the controversial One Paseo project, which is still causing major fights after its approval several weeks ago.

But the developers and city believe Mission Valley can take it – though some of the projects still need approval and may have to adjust as their impact becomes more clear.

Planners and government leaders often cite the SANDAG projection that the region’s population will grow by 1 million more people by 2030, and that we’ll need 290,000 new homes for them.

“Mission Valley is probably one of those locations that can handle a lot of that growth,” said Michael Stepner, a professor at the New School of Architecture and San Diego’s former city architect.

Stepner had a caveat, though. The neighborhood can handle this growth if it fixes some problems. While Mission Valley might have unparalleled access to freeways and transit – there are four major freeways, Friars Road and several trolley stops – they’re not exactly easy to get on. For instance, transit stations might be a walkable distance in Mission Valley, he said, but often it’s still easier to drive than walk.

“Trying to cross Friars Road is life threatening,” Stepner said.

Photo by Dustin Michelson
Photo by Dustin Michelson

That’s partly why Civita’s developer had to commit to build a pedestrian and bike bridge over Friars. And the transit stop at Hazard Center will soon be more accessible as well as a developer plans to put in 473 new housing units there.

Approval for the Hazard Center project has already been granted.

For all the six projects totaled, more than 10,600 new units are in the works. The new projects stretch from the Town and Country Resort to Civita, which is already going up. The Town and Country is about to submit plans for up to 900 new residential units that would go along with a renovated hotel. The city is contemplating Doug Manchester’s plan to replace the Union-Tribune building with two seven-story buildings and 200 residential units.

Nearby, the Bob Baker Ford lot on Camino Del Rio is about five acres wide and developers have approval to begin work on constructing 305 residential units along with some offices and retail.

Then the next biggie: The Levi-Cushman family is working with one of California’s largest developers, Related, to turn the Riverwalk Golf Course into up to 4,000 residential units plus offices and hotels.

Here’s an interactive map of all of them.


And here’s the permitting status of each project.

mission valley table

Dealy, who is overseeing the Union-Tribune project, told me the big projects going forward in Mission Valley will have to shoulder much of the burden of helping with the mobility and infrastructure issues.

He was thinking of the Qualcomm Stadium land and the Riverwalk Golf Course projects.

“Those two projects are going to have to add some significant infrastructure. I think it’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

Dealy will be reporting to the seven stadium task force members in the design group about a so-called Valley Infrastructure Plan.

For its part, city officials say they have no idea what infrastructure redevelopment the Qualcomm site would need, but planners told me that each project going through the process now must consider the neighborhood as a whole, not just its own immediate needs.

The Hazard Center and Civita projects plans have already satisfied the requirement to mitigate their impact on the neighborhood. Things like the pedestrian bridge and new roads passed the city’s muster and are under way.

And if plans for the Qualcomm Stadium land are fast-tracked to assuage the Chargers’ angst, so too will the technical evaluation of the development of that land, said Brian Schoenfisch, a longtime city planner for the area.

That could take some time. Todd Majcher, vice president of Lowe Enterprises, is the point man on the Town and Country’s big development plans. He said he expects them to be done with permitting issues within the next two years.

His project is 40 acres.

The Qualcomm Stadium site would be much bigger. The Chargers’ last proposal for the site a decade ago envisioned 6,000 units. That’s compared with up to 900 units and a hotel for the Town and Country site.

Day cautioned that the stadium task force won’t be coming up with a number of housing units for the Qualcomm Stadium site.

“It’s not our purview and we’re in no way, shape or form designing development for that plot of land,” he said.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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