Hillcrest Over the past year in southern Hillcrest, starting at the corner of Fourth and Pennsylvania and ending at the corner of Sixth and Redwood, the sounds of construction on several condominium complexes have dominated the area. High-pitched beeping from forklifts and skip loaders echoed through the neighborhood and entered small one- and two-story apartment buildings and older houses. Cranes and building supply trucks took up coveted street parking, and construction workers on their way to job sites cluttered sidewalks early in the morning.
The residents of Hillcrest have grown accustomed to the sounds of construction in their neighborhood. In the last five years, the community has witnessed the building of more than a dozen large condominium projects. And despite the recent lull in the housing market, in the upcoming months three new mid- and high-rise developments are slated for completion, while the fate of a fourth is undecided. In all, 216 new residences are planned, not including the controversial 301 University project, which is facing harsh opposition by members of the community regarding its height and number of units.
Alan Nevin, director of economic research for Marketpointe Realty Advisors, feels that there is not enough development occurring in Hillcrest and welcomes an urban makeover. “The area should be a shining star, complete with a blend of high-styled low-, mid-, and high-rise residential projects.… Instead, it’s a neighborhood of one- and two-story obsolete structures that should have been torn down decades ago. Smart growth and Hillcrest should not be mutually exclusive.”
While Nevin believes that the community “should be one of the great urban cores of San Diego,” John Taylor, a representative for Save Hillcrest, a group “dedicated to smart growth in the Uptown District,” sees the matter through a different set of safety goggles. “Hillcrest is not an extension of downtown, nor should it be. Hillcrest is an established community with predominantly one- to three-story buildings. If one brings the downtown model to Hillcrest, you lose the eclectic feel of Hillcrest that many have worked so hard over the last 100 years to create.”
In mid-November 2007, the first condos to be completed, Phase I of Atlas at Hillcrest, opened to new owners on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Pennsylvania. Texas-based D.R. Horton, the nation’s largest homebuilder, developed the Atlas project.
Atlas at Hillcrest — Phase I
3687 Fourth Avenue
63 units, approx. 15 per floor
4 floor plans, 725, 1022, 1214, 1485 square feet
1 and 2 bedrooms
Amenities: Bar lounge with terrace and fire pit; state-of-the-art gym; gated underground parking; pool and spa; satin nickel front door hardware; tile in entry, kitchen, and bath; granite countertops in kitchen and bath; large walk-in closets in master suites; black-on-stainless appliances including slide-in range and self-cleaning oven, built-in microwave/hood, and multicycle Energy Star dishwasher.
Atlas at Hillcrest is located near the heart of Hillcrest, just two blocks south of University Avenue. Builder D.R. Horton touts the U-shaped design of Phase I as “chic, sleek, and innovative.” According to the San Diego branch of D.R. Horton, 39 of the 63 units have been sold.
Richard Benson of Benson and Bohl Architects, whose offices are four blocks away, isn’t a fan of Atlas. He feels that change is inevitable for Hillcrest but that each project should complement and add to the surrounding structures. “I would like to see a variety of buildings…but they should be quality designs that add and enhance the character of the community and not just buildings that get adorned with fake cornices, as is the case with Atlas. The other problem is the fact that due to the height restrictions, they feel like they can go long instead, thus taking up the whole block, which, in my opinion, destroys that block.”
Atlas at Hillcrest — Phase II
3650 Fifth Avenue
77 units, approx. 20 per floor
4 floor plans, 725, 1022, 1214, 1485 square feet
Completion date: January 2009
Amenities: Same as Atlas I
Phase II, east of Phase I and facing Fifth Avenue, is located on the site of the former headquarters of the American Red Cross, just north of the popular Hash House a Go-Go restaurant. Construction on Phase II has slowed. “We are focusing all of our energy onto completing Phase I and moving the new owners into the building,” said Daniel Stevens, a sales representative for Atlas at Hillcrest, in mid-November of last year. None of the Phase II units are currently for sale.
Bill Hall, a 38-year resident and former beauty salon owner in Hillcrest, whose small two-story apartment building sits on Pennsylvania tucked in between Phase I and Phase II, feels that overall “the changes are for the good, besides the dust and the noise. The sidewalks will be redone, the buildings are nice looking. Obviously traffic will be an issue, but really, there’s not much that I could do about it anyway.”
Asked if the infrastructure of the cramped community of Hillcrest would be able to handle the addition of hundreds of new residents, Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who represents the area, said, “Our older urban neighborhoods need upgraded infrastructure.… New development does pay for much of the impact of growth through developer impact fees, fees that are charged to address the impact of increased density and population in a community. The community supported raising those fees several years ago, and they were smart to do so, because during the upturn in the real estate market, the City collected millions of dollars that have been allocated toward infrastructure projects.”
Trilogy on 5th
3265–3285 Fifth Avenue
25 units, 5 per floor
17 floor plans, 1166–2858 square feet
Completion date: March 2008
Amenities: Nine- to ten-foot ceilings in living areas; hard-surface flooring in entries, kitchens, and baths; plush carpeting; granite countertops in kitchens and baths; top-quality appliances; and a double party-wall system for sound insulation.
Four blocks south of the temporary sidewalks of Atlas at Hillcrest Phase II, located on the corner of Fifth and Thorn, Trilogy on 5th occupies the former site of an old Craftsman house, that, according to the builder’s website, was the home of a man named Deroy Spaulding. The Waverly Electric Car Company, a Midwest firm that, according to the Indiana Historical Society’s website, was “the first company to successfully produce several battery-powered vehicles for neighborhood use” during the early 20th Century, also had an office in that block.
Trilogy’s builder, San Diego–based Mayfair Homes, says that Trilogy on 5th “has retained several historical features of the Spaulding residence, recreated architectural elements of the Waverly building, added a third, more contemporary facade, and incorporated all into an eclectic, eye-appealing design.” Along with the original mail-slot, some of the wood and bricks from the old Craftsman-style home were reused for the porch, says a Trilogy sales associate. The design for the entrance was also intended to incorporate some of the original appearance of the home.
Sean Morton, owner of Flowers by Sean one block north of Trilogy at Fifth, has a conflicting opinion of the multicolored building, “It’s definitely good for business, but I think the building is a little tacky — it’s six different colors and just ugly.” Morton can see both points of view on the arrival of new mid- and high-rise condominiums to the area. “For business, it’s a great thing, but as a resident I can definitely see the concerns that a lot of the community is having.”
According to a sales associate at Mayfair Homes, 23 of the 25 residences are currently available.
Sixth Avenue and Upas
14 stories, 148 feet tall,
14 units, 1 per floor
1 floor plan, 2258 square feet
2 master suites, 2 baths
Prices: start at $1,100,000
Completion date: fall 2008
Amenities: Twenty-five linear feet of floor-to-ceiling window wall, a fully wired entertainment center, low-voltage track lights in living and dining areas, stainless steel appliances, a three-bowl stainless-steel Elkay sink with Grohe fixtures, Italian porcelain tile, granite countertops, French doors that lead out to a wrap-around balcony, master suite with hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling window facing Balboa Park, shower with etched frameless glass, Roman tub.
Two blocks north of Trilogy, on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Upas Street, stands the residential tower Mi Arbolito. The 14-story building, buttressed up against one of the few high-rise condominiums in Hillcrest, 666 Del Prado, sits on the edge of the manicured grass of Balboa Park.
The developer of the slender high-rise building is Delaware-based 1700 Investors, LLC, though the design is by San Diego architectural firm Martinez and Cutri, whose other works include Prospect Point in La Jolla and the Hyatt Regency Hotel expansion in San Diego.
According to the Martinez and Cutri website, Mi Arbolito is “destined to be the most prestigious and exclusive residential tower in all Southern California.”
Architect Richard Benson feels that the location and design for Mi Arbolito are in tune with the surrounding area. “It’s the appropriate place for a high-rise.… It should be done with the immediate area serving as a context for the scale of the design.”
The views to the south are of downtown San Diego, and to the southwest, the panorama is sure to offer sights of the bay. Views to the east are blocked by 666 Del Prado.
Ron Getchey, president of 666 Del Prado’s homeowners’ association, isn’t happy with the new neighboring building, and he isn’t thrilled with the San Diego Planning Commission for allowing the project to be built. “I headed the litigation against the building for the year that the project was on hold, and let me tell you…the entire process between the developers and the commission was not objective.”
Chris Burch lives three buildings down from Mi Arbolito in a 100-year-old former Spanish mansion that has been converted to apartments. “I really like the old buildings. I would like to see new construction that matches the old city architecture, and I really hate the fact that in order to give a great view to someone else you have to take it away from another. I mean, without the high-rise, I would have a view of the park. There should be a law against it.”
Three of the 14 units have been sold.
Sixth Avenue and Redwood
1700–4500 square feet
Prices: $1.4–$5 million
The fourth condo project, Biarritz, is four blocks south of Mi Arbolito, across Sixth Avenue from Balboa Park. Construction on the proposed luxury condominiums has stopped a dozen feet above ground, and the fenced-off construction site is devoid of workers as well as any sign of recent activity. Previously owned by Mayfair Homes, the project was in the hands of San Diego National Bank as of last week. Reliable sources say the bank is currently negotiating with another developer. Loan management at the bank declined to comment.
The sluggish housing market continues to show dismal results for developers. Out of the 105 currently available units, only 44 have sold.
According to Councilwoman Atkins, the City is seeing the effects of the sluggish market. “We have seen a slowdown in residential project development and plans in the pipeline at the City’s Development Services Department.”
Atkins is aware that some Hillcrest property owners and residents are troubled by the condo developments. “There is significant concern from community residents that infill projects may destroy the village character of Hillcrest. I am concerned that there are structures that are more than 45 years old that may be deemed historic but which are being demolished at a high rate to make way for infill projects that may not be in character with the surrounding neighborhood.”
John Castle, owner of several Hillcrest apartment buildings, is disappointed by the high-rise trend. “I feel that the older buildings add character to the community and that bringing in large complexes loses some of that character.”
Despite the slowing of plans coming to the City, and despite the pleas from some of Hillcrest’s community members and property owners, the residents of Hillcrest will in time once again have to cope with the sounds of diesel-powered construction coming into the neighborhood. In addition, commuters should be prepared to weave their way in NASCAR-like fashion through blocked lanes of traffic taken up by construction vehicles.
And after the new citizens of Hillcrest move into condos such as Atlas at Hillcrest, Trilogy on 5th, Mi Arbolito, and perhaps, eventually, Biarritz, and once they become settled, they too will join the debate on the development of Hillcrest.