Community Plan Update: Wins and Challenges for University Heights

After six years of community advocacy led by the University Heights Historical Society and University Heights Community Development Corporation with support from the University Heights Community Association (UHCA) and many UH residents and businesses, our community has achieved some important wins in the community plan updates for both Uptown and North Park.

However, some important challenges still remain as the City moves the plan updates toward approval by the City Council by the end of 2016.

Following is a summary of key community successes included in the January 2016 revisions to the Uptown and North Park Community Plan updates, as well as remaining challenges. Please note that “du/ac” is defined as “dwelling units per acre.”

Community Successes

Perhaps the biggest community accomplishment has been the removal of the Density Bonus Plan or Incentive Zoning Program west of Park Blvd. This proposal would have allowed significantly increased density and building height along Park Blvd. in exchange for undefined and dubious community “benefits.”

In addition, the following changes to the Uptown Community Plan were made, as supported by a significant majority of over 100 UH community members attended who attended the UHCA meeting on October 6, 2015 (facilitated by Kristin Harms and Bill Ellig), as well as a majority of over 50 UH residents who attended a community workshop on May 16, 2013 (facilitated by Chris Ward and Kristin Harms):

  • Area 1: Land use designation changed to Neighborhood Commercial (0-29 du/ac) on both sides of Park Blvd.
  • Area 3: Land use designation changed to Community Commercial (0-29 du/ac).
  • San Diego Unified School District Site: Institutional land use designation maintained for the sites currently occupied by the San Diego Unified School District and Birney Elementary School.
  • East-West Corridors of Madison, Monroe and Meade: Land use designation of Low Residential (5-9 du/ac) maintained for the homes facing these streets.

UH-Land-Use-Areas-of-Concern_10-15

Community Challenges

The North Park side of UH presents the biggest challenges for our community, specifically:

  • Area 2: After hearing from many members of our community last fall, the City reduced the land use designation of the lot currently occupied by the New Vision Fellowship Church at 4353 Park Blvd. from Community Commercial (0-109 du/ac) to Community Commercial (0-29 du/ac). Now, according to the February 2016 version of the North Park Land Use Element, the City has increased the land use designation again to Community Commercial (0-109 du/ac). This will have significant impacts on our community if the site ever becomes available for development.

Specifically, the site is located directly across from Birney Elementary School and abuts the southern boundary of the historic neighborhood commercial area along Park Blvd. from Adams Avenue to Meade. The significantly increased density proposed by the City is completely inappropriate for this location because of potential traffic hazards for school children, increased westbound traffic through University Heights, additional parking impacts in an area already deficient in parking, and because such high density is completely out of character with the rest of the low to moderate density along Park Blvd. between Adams and El Cajon Blvd. Allowing such density on this property would set a precedent for similar density along Park Blvd. north of El Cajon Blvd. At the community workshop in May 2013, the majority of participants agreed that higher density is appropriate along El Cajon Blvd. but not for this parcel.

  • Areas 4 & 5: In the January 2016 revision to the North Park Land Use Element, the City increased the base density along El Cajon Blvd. from Community Commercial (0-73 du/ac) to Community Commercial (0-109 du/ac). The City also introduced a new Density Bonus Plan for El Cajon Blvd. and the east side of Park Blvd. (also known as the Transit-Oriented Development Bonus Area), which will allow up to 145 du/ac along both corridors “to allow for increased residential density to create more street and pedestrian friendly projects that support transit.” As of the January 2016 revision to the Uptown Community Plan Update, there is no density bonus planned for the west side of Park Blvd.
  • Area 6: In the January 2016 revision to the North Park Land Use Element, the City increased the base density for this 100-acre residential area (also known as the Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Bonus Area) to 30-44 du/ac and also introduced a new Density Bonus Plan which will allow up to 73 du/ac “to applicants with development projects of 6 dwelling units or more to create more street and pedestrian friendly projects.”

 According to a January 2016 article in the Voice of San Diego, the proposed Density Bonus Plan will allow “developers to build more homes on a property than what’s allowed today if they’re replacing a ‘Huffman’. Named after their developer, the drab mini-apartment complexes of six to 10 units, jammed into single-family lots in the 1960s and 1970s with parking lots between the buildings and the sidewalks, are absolutely everywhere in midtown.” According to Lara Gates, City of San Diego Community Plan Update Manager for North Park, “We’re trying to incentivize having that redeveloped.”

Unfortunately, there are many historic bungalow courts with more than 6 units that will also be put at risk for redevelopment by the proposed Density Bonus Plan. According to the January 2016 version of the North Park Historic Preservation Element (HPE), “In the 1920s, as developers installed the infrastructure, mostly middle-class families erected the modest residences that make up much of North Park’s residential building stock today. During this same period, bungalow courts proliferated throughout North Park, primarily in the area between University and Adams Avenues.”

While applications for demolition of potentially historic structures more than 45 years old are subject to more intense review by the City, that process does not always happen as it should.

Keep in mind that for any of these projects, developers can add another 30% in density if they comply with California Housing and Development Standards for providing affordable housing to low-income families.

Take Action

While the proposed Density Bonus in Areas 4 and 5 (El Cajon and Park Blvds.) are probably a fait accompli due to pressure on the City to comply with the state’s Climate Action Plan, the significant increase in the land use designation for Area 2 (site of New Vision Fellowship Church) and the proposed Density Bonus for Area 6 (residential area between Howard and Lincoln) will have significant impacts on our community for the reasons outlined above.

Please email Councilmember Todd Gloria, City of San Diego Community Plan Update Manager for North Park Lara Gates, and North Park Planning Committee Chair Vicki Granowitz with the following message. Please feel free to use any of the information above to support your recommendations:

  • Oppose the Community Commercial (0-109 du/ac) land use designation for the site located at 4353 Park Blvd. as proposed in the February 2016 version of the North Park Land Use Element. Restore the land use designation for this site to Community Commercial (0-29 du/ac) as proposed in the January 2016 version of the North Park Land Use Element.
  • Oppose the new Density Bonus Plan for the residential area between Howard and Lincoln, which will allow up to 73 du/ac to applicants with development projects of 6 dwelling units or more.
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