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The irony of historic districts

Park Boulevard the latest to test the waters

Park Blvd.: Developers could add height and more units.  - Image by Chris Woo
Park Blvd.: Developers could add height and more units.

Two planning groups that share Park Boulevard as a boundary formed a task force to look at the historic district on Park between Upas St. and Robinson street, one that the city’s historic resources board reported on in June.

“The process is already underway and this gives people a place to go with questions,” Roy Dahl said. “It doesn’t create a historic district.”

But opponents said it is a bad idea.

“It will lower property values,” said Sharon Gale, a Mission Hills resident. “No one pays attention to the residential (historic) districts that have already been created – no one goes there.”

The city’s Historical Resource Board issued a report in 2016 that identified 19 potential historic districts in Uptown, one of the first areas settled in San Diego. Besides Park Boulevard, a half dozen Bankers Hill and more sites in Mission Hills are on the list.

Amie Hayes, a member of Uptown Planners, proposed the joint subcommittee with North Park. Both North Park and Uptown got new community plans in 2016 that allow for intense development along transit corridors including sections of El Cajon Boulevard, University Avenue, 30th Street and Park. In those areas, developers can add height and more units than zoning allows if they build close to transit corridors, include affordable housing and if the project achieves a certain density.

Both planning groups had serious concerns with the final plans handed to and approved by the city council – because they were substantially different than the plans they’d spent seven years crafting and making compromises to get to. Most of the concerns come down to building tall buildings – and not improving community amenities — in the city’s older neighborhoods. "Historic districts don't prevent growth, they manage growth," Hayes said.

But proponents of the density changes said they also set out to protect residential neighborhoods and historic districts, and the city historic resources board is currently looking at about a dozen in North Park and Golden Hill. North Park has four existing historic districts.

The area’s subcommittee on historic districts looked at the city reports on Aug. 2 and proposed working with Uptown, where the west side of Park Boulevard rests. Historic districts have their problems, including stringent and often costly requirements for repairs that must match the original structure. They do get a break on their property taxes, however.

Uptown chairman Leo Wilson reminded members that the action does not create a historic district, it just increases residents’ participation.

“Let me remind you that two years ago Uptown Planners supported Mission Hills residents that didn’t want to be a historic district,” he said.

Opponents say the proposed historic district will block growth. Ian Epley called the districts “stupid” and vowed to fight them.

“I think that buildings don’t have history, people have history” Epley said. “I don’t know where the historical resources board has gotten their power but they are out of control. (the districts) are a subjective view from somebody’s hobby and passion.”

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Park Blvd.: Developers could add height and more units.  - Image by Chris Woo
Park Blvd.: Developers could add height and more units.

Two planning groups that share Park Boulevard as a boundary formed a task force to look at the historic district on Park between Upas St. and Robinson street, one that the city’s historic resources board reported on in June.

“The process is already underway and this gives people a place to go with questions,” Roy Dahl said. “It doesn’t create a historic district.”

But opponents said it is a bad idea.

“It will lower property values,” said Sharon Gale, a Mission Hills resident. “No one pays attention to the residential (historic) districts that have already been created – no one goes there.”

The city’s Historical Resource Board issued a report in 2016 that identified 19 potential historic districts in Uptown, one of the first areas settled in San Diego. Besides Park Boulevard, a half dozen Bankers Hill and more sites in Mission Hills are on the list.

Amie Hayes, a member of Uptown Planners, proposed the joint subcommittee with North Park. Both North Park and Uptown got new community plans in 2016 that allow for intense development along transit corridors including sections of El Cajon Boulevard, University Avenue, 30th Street and Park. In those areas, developers can add height and more units than zoning allows if they build close to transit corridors, include affordable housing and if the project achieves a certain density.

Both planning groups had serious concerns with the final plans handed to and approved by the city council – because they were substantially different than the plans they’d spent seven years crafting and making compromises to get to. Most of the concerns come down to building tall buildings – and not improving community amenities — in the city’s older neighborhoods. "Historic districts don't prevent growth, they manage growth," Hayes said.

But proponents of the density changes said they also set out to protect residential neighborhoods and historic districts, and the city historic resources board is currently looking at about a dozen in North Park and Golden Hill. North Park has four existing historic districts.

The area’s subcommittee on historic districts looked at the city reports on Aug. 2 and proposed working with Uptown, where the west side of Park Boulevard rests. Historic districts have their problems, including stringent and often costly requirements for repairs that must match the original structure. They do get a break on their property taxes, however.

Uptown chairman Leo Wilson reminded members that the action does not create a historic district, it just increases residents’ participation.

“Let me remind you that two years ago Uptown Planners supported Mission Hills residents that didn’t want to be a historic district,” he said.

Opponents say the proposed historic district will block growth. Ian Epley called the districts “stupid” and vowed to fight them.

“I think that buildings don’t have history, people have history” Epley said. “I don’t know where the historical resources board has gotten their power but they are out of control. (the districts) are a subjective view from somebody’s hobby and passion.”

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Comments
6

It's about time to raze the old Embassy Hotel (shown in the photo). It's a good spot to build a high-rise/low-income apt. building.

Aug. 11, 2018

For God so loved the world that he did not send a committee. (or if you prefer: A camel is a horse built by a committee)

Aug. 11, 2018

Great piece here, Andy. I was really glad to see a local journalist capturing a more nuanced picture of the issues here. Often these kinds of stories get tilted so much towards the preservationist stance (I mean, who doesn't love the idea of preserving stuff?). But in truth, there are costs to balance and I think you did a great job in this story giving both sides a voice. And Park Boulevard is a very wide corridor and a major north-south connector. We can't simply treat it like any other small neighborhood street -- historic buildings or not. I just hope if there is a Historic Designation made here, it won't include the West side of Park since that's exactly where high density housing is best placed: wide street, transit corridor, on a major bikeway. Preserve small houses on small streets, sure. But let's address the housing and environmental needs, too, by not blocking development on corridors such as Park.

Aug. 13, 2018

Most of the buildings identified as contributing to this proposed historic district are already "multi-family buildings or complexes" (72), not "single family dwellings" (11). And the Embassy Hotel (with 76 rooms) is one of the few short-term residential facilities available in Uptown.

This just goes to show that, for some, hostility to historic preservation itself is more important than density or affordable housing—and that they don't care how many people are turned out of doors to satisfy their spite.

Aug. 13, 2018

We need more long-term, low-income residential in Uptown, NOT short-term. I don't see people marching in the streets demanding more flophouses in Uptown.

Aug. 13, 2018

Always the royal we from Lord Batty of Befuddle-on-Bayou, pronouncing on how the little people need to suck it up for gentrification. Which is strange, considering how close you live to the edge of economic displacement.

What the community needs is housing for all its segments, not just those who pass your personal sniff test. Especially the working poor, for whom the dignity of the Embassy Hotel far exceeds living in cars or canyons.

Aug. 13, 2018

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