City planners have proposed raising building heights to 100 feet.
  • City planners have proposed raising building heights to 100 feet.
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A group of property owners in Hillcrest want the freedom to build higher residential and commercial buildings. And if that freedom isn’t granted, members of the newly formed Uptown Gateway Council warn, local housing prices will continue to climb and people will move to outlying areas. The group also claims inaction will steer the city further from addressing climate change and do little to solve affordable-housing shortages.

In order to prevent such societal ills, the group is asking for their own zoning district in Hillcrest where current and proposed density and height requirements don’t apply. In the proposed district, developers would be allowed build up to 200-feet high — 135 feet higher than currently allowed — and build one unit per 200 square feet of lot size, more than double the amount of density currently proposed in areas of Hillcrest.

Hillcrest residents and developers have clashed over increased density and height limits for nearly a decade.

Former Development Services Department director Marcela Escobar-Eck represents the Uptown Gateway Council, which includes Hillcrest’s largest property owners, Gary Pernicano, Bennet Greenwald, Charlie Jadallah, as well as nine others.

Altogether the property owners own 7.13 acres of property in the heart of Hillcrest. They say the city’s zoning plans for the community, as proposed in the updated community plan, only shows the “disconnect” between the developers and the city’s stringent building restrictions.

Hillcrest residents and developers have clashed over increased density and height limits for nearly a decade. Until now, residents have won the battle, having convinced the city council to adopt an interim height limit that capped building heights at 50 to 65 feet in portions of Hillcrest and Mission Hills.

But the height limit will change when the update to Uptown’s Community Plan is ratified. In their draft update, city planners have chosen to increase building heights to 100 feet.

That proposal isn’t good enough for the Uptown Gateway Council. Escobar-Eck is lobbying planners and elected officials to increase heights to 200 feet along commercial corridors. The proposal once again pits developers and commercial property owners against residents.

Building heights in Hillcrest are capped at 50 to 65 feet — for now.

The debate over height limits and density in Uptown communities, say some housing advocates, is much more than another NIMBY-versus-developer spat: it is an argument about affordable housing and getting closer to more public-transit-dependent communities. As long as development is spurred, they argue, rents will continue to climb in Hillcrest. Middle- and low-income families will be pushed out from Uptown, further away from jobs, all while increasing their dependence on vehicles.

In a December 1 letter to the city’s planning department, Escobar-Eck, on behalf of the group, warned city planners that succumbing to residents’ protests does more harm than good. Escobar-Eck urged the city to create a district within a district where they can build up to 200 feet high in certain areas and double the density from 45 to 73 units per acre to 100 units per acre.

“It is fundamental to understand that the economics of real estate development dictate that goals for a more livable community are, frankly, unachievable without the flexibility to develop higher and denser projects,” Escobar-Eck wrote. “…We cannot just stand still and wait for the rug to be pulled from under them, and with it their property values, dreams, and aspirations for a better Uptown.

“This draft plan does not accomplish what we anticipate all residents and property owners of Uptown would desire: the activation of streets with people, commerce, and entertainment. There is a disconnect in this draft plan, in that somehow this activation can be realized while simultaneously diminishing the height and density of future projects. The key to activation of the ground plane and to increasing the public realm is to build higher and denser....

“Lowering density creates an economic productivity issue. Diminishing, rather than enhancing the economic productivity of this area ultimately translates into a regional failure. The net result of the draft plan as written is that new development doesn’t work and not much will change for the better, this in an area where as you have been notified, economic activity is currently scaling down. If not much is built or rehabilitated, this makes the city worse. Maintaining some sort of Uptown ‘status quo,’ or creating something even less than the status quo, is a stab in the heart of economic productivity.”

The proposal has angered some residents. They say this is a push for larger returns on developers’ investments and a ploy to prevent city planners and city staff from designating Hillcrest’s business center, where most of the gateway proposal is located, as a historic site.

“The owners are trying to get their way with zoning in general, and are especially trying to stop the establishment of a Hillcrest historic district the city has recommended since 1981 for the area where their properties are located,” says Uptown planner Mat Wahlstrom. “[Adopting this proposal] would destroy the very quality of life that makes people want to build here in the first place.”

But what about affordable-housing shortages and rising rental rates? If the city wants to move closer to their “city of villages” vision, where residents live in mixed-use developments and walk, bike, and use transit to get around, don’t building restrictions make it harder for that to occur?

“The ‘Gateway Gang’ are not advocating affordable housing,” Wahlstrom counters, “they are pushing speculative development of luxury condos for all the money they can get.... Property values increase when density is increased and only the rich can afford it. That’s why there’s sprawl. Increased density allows more units per lot, which means greater potential income; greater potential income increases value, which increases costs to developers — who pass the expense on to buyers.”

Wahlstrom has formed a group called Rescue Hillcrest to fight the Gateway district.

One only needs to look at the current housing climate in Hillcrest, says cycling advocate and blogger Paul Jamason, to see that it is the middle- and lower-class residents in need of rescue.

“Blocking new housing has already changed the community character in a negative way, by making it difficult for anyone but wealthier residents to live in Hillcrest. Communities naturally change over time, and many people oppose change. Residents complained when historic bungalows were built because they ruined open fields. Cryogenically preserving 1970s-era strip malls to ‘respect the scale of our neighborhood’ is short-sighted.”

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Comments

Truck Feb. 10, 2016 @ 2:01 p.m.

Don't believe a word real estate developers tell you. They are out to destroy an already overcrowded area of our city by adding even more gigantic buildings. This action will more than certainly lower the quality of life for all residents and bring about more congestion and more crime.

Once their project has been paid for and their pockets filled they will abscond to their comfy single family mansions in super rich areas where the rest of us plebs are not welcome. They think they are clever by telling us that their new proposals will solve our affordable housing crisis but stuffing people into a small 200 square foot unit at an absurd price is not my idea of a real solution.

It is people like them that have contributed to our societal problems by hoarding land and other real estate assets, calling them investments. Nice try. We will not comply, we as citizens of this gorgeous city will resist all efforts to turn this iconic part of America into just another shapeless dump that only serves the 1%.

Keep San Diego classy... and beautiful.

1

caden Feb. 10, 2016 @ 7:54 p.m.

So what is your solution? Stop all growth? Ask folks in Detroit, Cleveland and Flint, Michigan how their cities fared when people stopped moving there for decades. Your mindset is so 1970. So sad.

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SanDiegoOrcas Feb. 11, 2016 @ 1:28 a.m.

Ah yes, I remember the 1970s. Back when "village" still meant "small town", and fresh steaming bullshit came from actual bulls instead of Marcela Escobar-Eck.

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Truck Feb. 11, 2016 @ 11:42 a.m.

Specifically aimed at caden, It is narrow-minded and unrealistic to be obsessed with the idea that we must be involved in perpetual and constant growth. It is that same mindset that also overlooks the workable solution of sustainability and instead insists on robing the world of its natural resources for personal enrichments and entitlements. Your view is the sad one.

You would rather cram more and more people into an area so that we can have an economy of more shops that exist only to sell us more useless and unnecessary trinkets in the name of growth. What about a life not centered around the dollar, but focused on the quality and equality for all who share an area of space within each community?

Detroit, Cleveland, and Flint have many things in common but one of the most obvious commonalities is that their states of humanitarian need are the direct result of white flight, fear, and corruption. The minute a community stops being seen as a viable source for profit it is thrown away and deemed inhospitable. Flint is the latest victim of the greed driving our economy for it committed the most heinous crime of not being a rich enough city to deserve clean water for its residents. Maybe they didn't sell out to real estate developers in time or open their town to more trinket shops?

You troll around leaving comments and chastising us all but all your comments are full of judgements about the people of a city in which you have no real stake in anymore. You call Hillcrest dead, irrelevant, and disgusting yet we are supposed to follow you down a path of "rejuvenation" and gentrification when most that live there are already perfectly content with how the area has already grown.

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Founder Feb. 10, 2016 @ 3:46 p.m.

Density or Density Bonuses —> No Thank You

Are you concerned with the City Planning Dept.’s Plan to force ever more Density into our neighborhoods, while leaving most other parts of San Diego untouched?

The North Park Residential Improvement District (NP-RID) urges you to join with us in demanding that the City first provide the long overdue infrastructure improvements we all know are needed (by the people already living in our neighborhoods) before allowing any more Density, which will only make things worse for all.  NP-RID wants to help everyone that needs our support, so that they in turn will support us.  Working together, we can all enjoy a better quality of life for ourselves and in our neighborhoods.

I believe that Developers who want to increase their bottom lines are now working with the City Planning Department by asking us to choose between Density or Density Bonuses (allowing even higher Density), in a sales pitch called the Presumptive Close (in which it is presumed that the customer will buy one or the other, instead of choosing to buy neither) to get us to buy into supporting their enormous Planned Density Increases.

Spread Density fairly throughout San Diego, don't just push Density on Mid-City because these Developers what to make more money than they already are. Additional Density projects should also have "stepped" large additional fees accessed to them, so that this money can be used immediately to improve the "above ground" amenities so that all those that live nearby will see an improvement in their quality of life; and I'm not talking about spending it on otherwise required trees, street benches and similar items. Why not require larger projects to fund street linear parks and other things that will make San Diego a better place to live instead of just a much more crowded place to live?

Who wants Univ. Ave to have wall to wall high rises like Park Boulevard & Univ. Ave?

Look at the size of potential projects shown on the link listed below.

[1]: Density Bonus link from University Heights: https://uh2050.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/myths-and-facts-about-the-north-park-density-bonus-program/

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caden Feb. 10, 2016 @ 7:50 p.m.

Let me guess......Retired, with nothing else to do but except stop progress? You must hate how Park Blvd. in University Heights is so much more vibrant these days because of folks investing in the neighborhood. You on the other hand want it all to yourself.

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Founder Feb. 13, 2016 @ 6:13 p.m.

Caden - By your logic, Developers must be $AINT$ since they make so much money creating ever more Density in what is already a very cool neighborhood, thanks to all the people that already live here, not the developers.

"Folks investing in their Neighborhood" is different than cramming ever more new folks into a neighborhood that already lacks the infrastructure it is due, all in the name of Progress. I'd love to live in Rancho Santa Fe but nobody is building Density there. Why, because it is not as good a deal for the Developers as it could be in Mid-City. This is a push by Developers to make big bucks and all the talk about providing low and moderate housing is a canard.

If all new developments had to include large amounts of low and moderate housing (with rents that were fixed for 30+ years) you would see the Developers cry foul... They want to be able to sell market rate units or better yet lease market rate units so that they can have an ever increasing income stream.

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AlexClarke Feb. 10, 2016 @ 5:13 p.m.

Hillcrest is densely populated now. Traffic is bad and parking is impossible I can't imagine how higher density housing will help. As for forcing people to outlying areas just what areas would that be? Housing prices in El Cajon, La Mesa are anything but affordable and going north will not help until you get to Temecula. Transportation corridors? What the bus? Our transportation system serves very few people who can get on and off a bus or trolley and be home or at work. Founder and Truck are right on. Developers are greedy first and community minded is not even on the list.

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dwbat Feb. 10, 2016 @ 5:46 p.m.

Alex, Hillcrest parking is tough, but not "impossible." That's an exaggeration. Yes, most don't get off at a bus/trolley stop, and are at "home or at work." You usually have to walk a little. The 10 and 7 buses are 1.5 blocks from my place. Oh boo hoo, what a terrible walk home for me. And I have to walk 2.5 blocks to catch the 215 bus. No big deal. The exercise is good.

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caden Feb. 10, 2016 @ 7:41 p.m.

Why is anyone even talking about Hillcrest these days? That neighorhoood has been insignificant for over 15 years now and it's only going to get worse. As a former resident of the area during the 90s, I can honestly say that the community leaders (Past and present) are solely to blame for why Hillcrest is dead, dead, dead. No one I know goes there anymore. It's the most depressing neighborhood in Uptown. Just look at all of the vacant storefronts and restaurant spaces. And don't even get me started on the business turnover rate.

City Deli, D Bar, Obelisk, Pizza Nova, La Vache.....Gone. They knew where that neighborhood was headed so they split. People who talk about Hillcrest being densely populated must be idiots. The reason businesses fail in Hillcrest is because not enough people live in the area to support them. Hillcrest relies on outsiders to keep the commercial area alive, but guess what? None of us are going there because there's nothing to see or do there. I'm actually surprised that Crest Cafe is still there. I'm certain it hasn't seen a fresh coat of paint since I left Hillcrest 20 years ago. Disgusting.

It's time to let the neighborhood runs it's course. Let the people who want to keep Hillcrest in a time warp do so and let's just wait another 20 years to watch it start to gentrify. As it is now, it's a sad, sad section of the city that no one talks or cares about. Thank goodness we have North Park, Little Italy, U-Heights, Normal Height, among others to enjoy.

So long, Hillcrest....It was nice knowing you.

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dwbat Feb. 11, 2016 @ 8:18 a.m.

City Deli closed because the owners retired. Obelisk closed temporarily because of a huge fire upstairs. It reopened, but then closed permanently as customers may have "moved on" to other retailers, Amazon, etc. Crest Cafe is there because customers like its comfort food and laid back ambiance. Uh, "no one talks or cares about" Hillcrest? Obviously, you are incorrect there. As for blaming the "community leaders" in Hillcrest, is this your code term for the LGBT community?

1

ICare Feb. 11, 2016 @ 8:59 a.m.

You are so correct Caden. These people who want to close off the future of Hillcrest, Mission Hills and Banker's Hill continue to have their heads in the sand. We must develop and build neighborhoods of the future in which we can walk or bike to stores, movie theaters, retail, schools, parks etc. Height? Not 200 Feet...but 30 or 50 feet is silly. How about 100 - 125 feet compromise with retail on the bottom street level and condos with some affordable rental on site? Look at IMission at Goldfinch and Washington Street. 20% very low income and the rest of the units condos and townhouses. 6 new restaurants went into hood within 3 years and everyone loves the Mission Hills neighborhood again. Too bad the YUCKY people of Mission Hills made the developer back then cut off the 6th story off, which gave the building some relief and a roof top garden, instead of the flat roof it has today. IT'S THE ECONOMY STUPID! CAN WE PLEASE GROW UP???

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Truck Feb. 11, 2016 @ 12:26 p.m.

Aimed at ICare - You say "Too bad the YUCKY people of Mission Hills..."

Yucky? Really? So you want to call out the lot of residents, specifically of Mission Hills, that you feel do not share your ideal standards by calling them disgusting? What makes these people "YUCKY" to you and furthermore why are their values, experiences, and desires not deserving of your respect and consideration when it comes to how their section of town is built around them? Perhaps one day you will discover that all the people that do not care in the same way as you for overcrowded areas of towns with ever increasing building heights are not yucky or stupid for not sharing your same opinions.

The economy is a complicated beast that requires constant revision to keep the whole facade going. What do you mean "IT'S THE ECONOMY STUPID! CAN WE PLEASE GROW UP???" Do you mean that we should all just let go of our beliefs and how we envision a space of the same city we all occupy just to fit the mold you think is proper? How are we stupid for not wanting to be taken advantage of by real estate developers who's primary purpose is to secure a profit for themselves? In fact, it isn't stupid, it's incredibly intelligent and responsible to question any authority with the power to create permanent change to our landscape. And how about less buildings and more ground gardens that make space for produce and grow a sense of community... wait that is probably what you would consider a stupid idea.

We can already walk or bike to stores, theaters, retail shops, schools and parks in Hillcrest so what really are you on about regarding this specific issue?

1

Truck Feb. 11, 2016 @ 11:57 a.m.

It is narrow-minded and unrealistic to be obsessed with the idea that we must be involved in perpetual and constant growth. It is that same mindset that also overlooks the workable solution of sustainability and instead insists on robing the world of its natural resources for personal enrichments and entitlements. Your view is the sad one.

You would rather cram more and more people into an area so that we can have an economy of more shops that exist only to sell us more useless and unnecessary trinkets in the name of growth. What about a life not centered around the dollar, but focused on the quality and equality for all who share an area of space within each community?

Detroit, Cleveland, and Flint have many things in common but one of the most obvious commonalities is that their states of humanitarian need are the direct result of white flight, fear, and corruption. The minute a community stops being seen as a viable source for profit it is thrown away and deemed inhospitable. Flint is the latest victim of the greed driving our economy for it committed the most heinous crime of not being a rich enough city to deserve clean water for its residents. Maybe they didn't sell out to real estate developers in time or open their town to more trinket shops?

You troll around leaving comments and chastising us all but all your comments are full of judgements about the people of a city in which you have no real stake in anymore. You call Hillcrest dead, irrelevant, and disgusting yet we are supposed to follow you down a path of "rejuvenation" and gentrification when most that live there are already perfectly content with how the area has already grown.

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cousin Feb. 10, 2016 @ 11:19 p.m.

The City’s Master Plan says that we should have more housing near Village Centers like Hillcrest so that people can walk to work, stores, restaurants and public bus stops. The problem is that some people who live in Hillcrest and Uptown now don’t want more people to live here.

The City did what they asked and lowered building heights below what already exists on an “interim” basis until the new plan is approved; and lowered densities below what is currently legal. Wonderful tall buildings like the one in the photo would not be allowed with the new regulations.

Here is a link to the City’s website for Uptown with the presentation that they gave at an Uptown Planners meeting on Feb. 2nd. Just look at the maps and you’ll see what is legal now and what is actually being proposed in the future; and why people who are concerned about the environment and affordable housing think this is crazy. http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/profiles/uptown/pdf/2016_Feb_2_Uptown%20Planners_LU%20Presentation.pdf

Remember your economics class? The cost to buy or rent is all a matter of supply and demand. If the City reduces the supply of housing in Uptown but people want live here, the cost of housing will go up.

Perhaps it would be easier to understand if I said housing is like musical chairs. If there aren’t enough chairs, people with less money loose out. Allow more chairs to be made, even expensive chairs, and the average chair won’t cost as much, and fewer people will be without chairs. This is all supply and demand.

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dwbat Feb. 11, 2016 @ 8:21 a.m.

cousin: People do not "loose" out; they lose out. ;-)

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sessions Feb. 11, 2016 @ 9 a.m.

I am young, fully employed and support the sentiments of Founder. San Diego already has a downtown with plenty of currently available dwellings. How does completely changing the character of a unique and quirky neighborhood like Hillcrest benefit anyone besides the developers? The shops in Hillcrest are already too crowded. Shop in them at any time of day and it is obviously already quite dense in Hillcrest. San Diego is not laid out for bus service and San Diegans are not primarily bus riders. I cannot get to my job without taking 3 buses and walking 45 minutes. You cannot pick up two children from two different schools after working a full time job via bus in San Diego. It is not practical to take 2 small children and a large sick dog to the vet via bus in San Diego. I cannot take my snowboard to Mammoth via bus. I cannot take my camping gear to Joshua Tree by bus. I cannot take two children, a dog, and a surfboard to the beach via a bus in San Diego. High rise luxury apartments will not improve my quality of life. Hillcrest's gem is Balboa Park, that is what improves my quality of life. Its many fun and delicious restaurants, shops and bookstores make it a great place to live. The unique and charming historical rental properties, which are much more affordable than the new high rise luxury apartments, and include apartment buildings from the 1920s, cannot be found in most of San Diego. These are the prized possessions of HIllcrest. The small bungalow home with a courtyard that allows for the dog, the bike, the surfboard, etc are what make Hillcrest a neighborhood, not part of downtown San Diego. If you want to live in downtown, you can, but people live in a neighborhood because that is the lifestyle they chose. It is just as valid a way to live, especially considering there is plenty of room for growth closer to the majority of jobs in San Diego.

1

dwbat Feb. 11, 2016 @ 1:25 p.m.

Bus routes are determined by need. Of course you can't go to Joshua Tree by bus from San Diego. That would make no sense; Greyhound wouldn't make a nickel. The same with Mammoth.

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Founder Feb. 14, 2016 @ 12:45 p.m.

Sessions - Great comment.

Most of those that are promoting for more Density do not ride the bus, commute to all the Density meeting by bike or even ride share.

We are being lectured to by people that want more housing so that Developers can profit by remaking our Special Neighborhoods more like Mission Valley.

Everybody wants to live in a cool neighborhood, but as the Density gets increased it becomes less cool, that is what most of those that are promoting ever more Density cannot understand.

You live in a neighborhood for 20 or 30 years or more you get possessive of it, because it is your neighborhood. To hear that people (new to SD) want to increase your Density so that they can move in is just more ME-ism.

Developers and Business Owners are now enabling many groups that are now promoting ever more Density in SD. They are doing this because it is great for their own bottom line. Take away the money and many of these well funded groups would cease to exist as we know them today.

When City Council members, their Staff and most City Workers take mass transit (instead of owning a vehicle) then I will believe that we all should consider changing our ways; that is unless you are aged, have children, pets or need to carry more than a handful of items with you.

Left unsaid is that taking mass transit at night is scary if you are a Senior, a good looking women or just don't like waiting for the bus or walking SD's dark streets. Vehicles offer personal safety that mass transit will never be able to match, which is very important with all those concerned with their daily and their own safety.

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