North Park Community Plan Update and University Heights: Next Steps

Despite the disappointing, although not unexpected, approval of the North Park Community Plan Update by the North Park Planning Committee and by the San Diego Planning Commission, University Heights has achieved some key changes to both the North Park and Uptown Community Plans updates.

A few changes to the plan updates are still needed for University Heights and now is the time to take action by Monday, October 3rd and appeal directly to the ultimate decision-makers, the San Diego City Council. First up is the North Park Community Plan Update, scheduled for a decision by City Council on Tuesday, October 25th.

Keep in mind that the North Park Planning Committee and San Diego Planning Commission are only advisory to the City Council. The City Council will review the recommendations of City planning staff, Planning Commission, and the North Park Planning Committee but City Council will make the final decision. Despite what you may think, City Council members are influenced when the community stands together with a single, loud voice.

Following is a summary of key changes included in the latest revisions to the Uptown and North Park Community Plan updates, as well as remaining changes needed, and what you can do to take action to influence the Council’s final decision.

Community Successes

As supported by the UH community at numerous workshops and charettes over the past 6 years, the following changes were incorporated by City planning staff into the proposed Uptown and North Park Community Plan Updates. Please note that “du/ac” is defined as “dwelling units per acre.”

Both Planning Areas

  1. The zoning for the commercial area on both sides of Park Blvd. between Adams and Meade was changed to CN-1-3 (maximum density of 0-29 du/ac and maximum height of 30 feet).
  2. Over 60 bungalow courts throughout UH were identified for inclusion in a Residential Court Multiple Property Listing (MPL). A MPL may be used to nominate and register thematically related historic properties, or to establish the registration requirements for properties that may be nominated individually or in groups in the future.

Uptown Planning Area

  1. The zoning for the small lot at the northwest corner of Park and El Cajon on the San Diego Unified School District site was changed to CN-1-3 (maximum density of 0-29 du/ac and maximum height of 30 feet).
  2. The zoning for the homes along Madison, Monroe and Meade west of Park Blvd. was changed to RM-1-7 (maximum density of 5-9 du/ac and maximum height of 24/30 feet).
  3. The San Diego Normal School/San Diego City Schools Education Complex was identified as a potential historic district.

North Park Planning Area

  1. The 14 craftsman homes along Spalding Place between Park and Georgia were identified as a potential Spalding Place Residential Historic District.
  2. It was proposed to expand the existing Shirley Ann Place Historic District to Louisiana Street and to the west side of Texas Street between Madison and Monroe.

Remaining Changes Needed on North Park Side of UH

Following are three key areas on the North Park side of UH that still need to be addressed:

1. Contiguous Parcels on East Side of Park Blvd. between El Cajon and Meade

After decreasing the density for these parcels to Community Commercial (0-29 du/ac) in January 2016, the City upped it to Community Commercial (0-109 du/ac) in February 2016 without providing any justification and has proposed a zoning of CC 3-9. These contiguous parcels comprise approximately 2.36 acres, which means that as many as 257 new units could be built on them, directly across the street from Birney Elementary School. With the state affordable housing density bonus of 35%, as many as 347 units could be built. Here is what this site could look like at 109 du/ac:

 4353ParkBlvd

Such excessive density is completely inappropriate for this site because:

  • It poses traffic safety risks for school children walking or biking on Meade Avenue to cross Park Blvd., or for any school child walking or biking near the school. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools, “More children are hit by cars near school than at any other location.”
  • It will significantly increase westbound traffic on Meade Avenue through University Heights and pose safety risks for the many pedestrians and bicyclists in our community.
  • It will increase northbound traffic on Park Blvd. as it narrows to two lanes from El Cajon Blvd.
  • It will create traffic impacts at the intersection of Meade & Mission Avenues.
  • It is completely out of character with the low to moderate density along Park Blvd. between Adams and El Cajon Blvd.
  • It does not provide any transition from the very high commercial density proposed along El Cajon Blvd. (109 du/ac) to the low density commercial area (0-29 du/ac) along Park Blvd. between Meade and Adams, or the low to medium density residential area (5-15 du/ac) between Meade and Adams.
  • A significant majority of over 150 UH residents voted in support of Community Commercial (0-29 du/ac) for this site at two community workshops in May 2013 and in October 2015.

2. Howard to Lincoln Residential Area

In the March 2016 revision to the North Park Land Use Element, the City recommended a base density of Residential-Medium High (30-44 du/ac) for this residential area. They also introduced the Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Enhancement Program, which will allow up to 73 du/ac to applicants with existing development projects of 6 dwelling units, to encourage redevelopment of the many multiple unit housing complexes, also known as “Huffman six-packs”, throughout the North Park area.

NP Density Bonus AreaThe Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Enhancement Program is completely inappropriate and unnecessary for this area because:

  • The proposed density is unnecessary to accommodate the projected population growth. According to SANDAG, the base density of Residential-Medium High (30-44 du/ac) proposed by the City for this area will more than accommodate the population growth forecast for this area, which is fully included in Census Tracts 9 and 13. For example, Census Tract 9 has a population of 5,178, 3,141 housing units, and an average density of approximately 20 units per acre (considered Residential-Medium density by the City). SANDAG forecasts a 44% increase in population in Tract 9 to 7,445 by 2050, and a 36% increase in housing units to 4,280 by 2050. That is a net gain of 1,339 housing units over the next 40 years. The base density for this area of 44 dwelling units per acre will more than accommodate growth projected by SANDAG.
  • The humble “Huffmans” provide affordable housing to many low-income families in North Park. According to City planners, there are approximately 1,000 Huffman type buildings in North Park which represent approximately 6,000 housing units and as many as 12,000 residents. This represents about 24% of the total housing stock in North Park and about 26% of the population, according to the 2010 Census. According to SANDAG, close to 82% of the 11,375 residents living in Census Tracts 9 & 13 live in multi-family dwelling units, more than likely a Huffman. Of these, almost 60% have a household income of less than $45,000 per year, and almost 19% of households make less than $15,000 per year. Further, 13% are age 60 and over, and another 13% are under age 19. Less than half are White, almost a third are Hispanic, 10% are black, and 7% Asian.
  • The proposed density bonus puts many historic homes and bungalow courts at risk. According to research by Randi Vita, a resident of the Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Bonus Area, the area between Florida and Hamilton Streets contains over 400 historic single-family homes and bungalow courts with an average age of 90 years.
  • A majority of over 150 UH residents voted against any density bonuses in UH, and in support of Residential-Medium (15-29 du/ac) for this area at two community workshops in May 2013 and in October 2015.

3. Residential Court Multiple Property Listing

While a Multiple Property Listing for the many historic bungalow courts throughout University Heights is a good first step, these bungalow courts need to be identified as a potential historic district in order to receive all the same protections as other potential historic districts. With the significant increases in density proposed in both plan updates, bungalow courts are extremely vulnerable because their large lot sizes allow more dense development.

Take Action

The San Diego City Council is the ultimate decision-maker on the North Park Community Plan Update and will make a decision on October 25th. The community can still have a strong influence over the City Council vote, IF you are willing to take action.

Please email your recommendations to all City Councilmembers by end of day Monday, October 3rd. What would be even better is to attend the City Council meeting on October 25th and to speak during public comment. I will post more details as soon as they are available. Here are 3 recommendations, based on several years of community input. Click here for more information and a sample letter.

  1. Change the zoning for all parcels located on the east side of Park Blvd. between Meade and El Cajon Blvd. from CC 3-9 (0-109 du/ac and no height limit) to CN-1-3 (0-29 du/ac, 30 foot height limit) consistent with zoning for other commercial areas on Park Blvd. between Meade and Adams Avenue, and to provide for development compatible with the built environment of the existing neighborhoods.
  2. Eliminate the proposed Pedestrian-Oriented Infill Development Enhancement Program and maintain the base zoning for this area as RM-3-7 to provide for development compatible with the built environment of the existing neighborhoods.
  3. Survey and implement the Residential Court Multiple Property Listing as a stand-alone district and add to the Community-Identified List of Potential Historic Districts.
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