The loudspeaker blasts go on all day, says Mary Alsop, who lives a half block from the Hillcrest Department of Motor Vehicles office. So when the DMV presented its proposed design for the replacement building Tuesday night, she was angry that the practice would continue – and that the continuing use of loudspeakers was buried deep in the plan.
“I strongly object to the public address system.” Alsop said. ”Your use of loudspeakers harms me – loudspeakers are harmful to people’s health.”
Her concerns were among a host of criticisms of the plan, which was rejected by the Uptown Planners in the nicest unanimous opposition this reporter has ever seen. The plan is in the environmental review phase – the comment period ends on Sept. 7.
The proposed plan takes the 2.46 acre parcel between Normal Street, Cleveland and Lincoln avenues, where there’s a smallish one-story building and a lot of parking, and, for $22 million, replaces it with a 50 percent larger one-story building and a lot of parking, much shaded by solar panels. The public will have a nicer area outside to wait in. Until they’re summoned by loudspeaker.
“Having people wait outside, nobody does that,” said Patrick Santana.
San Diego artist Roy McMakin proposed that the excess land instead become a public plaza with underground parking beneath it. “We already see cars and asphalt. We don’t need more of that.”
There had been discussion about a multi-use building, with the DMV on the ground floor and, best case scenario, housing above it. The planning group is entirely on board with the idea and members say they had to push to get Assembly member Todd Gloria engaged in the idea of building a multi-use on the state-owned land.
“It’s the one place that can take density and here you are with a 1961-era plan for a surface lot in the middle of density,” said Roy Dahl.
The site is home to the neighborhood farmers’ market every week and the LGBT Pride parade. It has been used cooperatively for extra night and weekend parking and as a collection site for county voters’ ballots – without a fence around it. The fence could curtail those uses and send a negative vibe through the community, speakers said. And it would cut the dreamed-of plaza off from the Normal Street Greenway that the Hillcrest Business Association has been working on for more than six years.
In late August, Gloria – who was present at the meeting – sent a letter to the facilities wing of the state DMV, calling their plan “a missed opportunity to put forward a mixed-use project that includes housing, park space, underground parking, community rooms or other enhancements.”
Gloria sat quietly in the audience while one panel member after another, and many members of the public politely criticized the plan, including that seven-foot fence that cuts it off from the surrounding neighborhood.
“I do feel there’s a bit of suburban cookie cutter feel in this,” said Benjamin Nicholls, the executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association. “You can’t just take any design and plop it down – it’s all context and this is going in with a wrought iron fence next to the greenway we are planning.”
The DMV presenter, Gil Topete, answered questions politely and clearly and told residents that the DMV is interested in their thoughts.
At the end of the meeting, Gloria promised that his office would work with the DMV to bring back a design more appropriate for the community.