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City land use committee okays "Sustainable Development Areas"

Thousands of acres near transit sites could be opened for development

Building bonanza?
Building bonanza?

The most contested update to the land development code has been passed 3-1 by the city's land use and housing committee. Sustainable development areas — the city's new term for places where transit-oriented housing can be built — was the "hot topic" of the proposed ordinance.

The term refers to places that have good walk, roll, bike, or other micro-mobility access to transit. It does not replace “transit priority areas,” which will remain in the code, applying to state programs that use that definition. Rather, it will apply to city incentive programs, mainly Complete Communities and the ADU density bonus program.

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The city says the new definition aligns with climate equity and housing goals. Officials said the change has a huge potential to lift housing, expanding by 5224 acres the amount of developable land when compared to the current “transit priority areas,” which are defined by state law and don't account for physical barriers like steep hills and freeways that residents may encounter when trying to reach a bus or trolley.

Eligibility for the city's housing incentive programs will also expand: there is a potential increase of 3342 acres in areas with high economic and educational opportunities, and where affordable housing has historically struggled for a toehold.

Still, the move was not without its critics. A crowd of citizens spoke before the committee voted, most in opposition. Even vice-chair Joe LaCava, who said the concept originated from comments made by himself and councilmember Von Wilpert to try to align transit priority areas based on walkable and not geographic distance, wanted to hold it back. "It is a significant policy shift,” said LaCava, “which I strongly believe does not belong in the annual code update."

Geoffrey Hueter, chair of Neighbors For A Better San Diego, said it was buried in the staff report that 688 acres of commercial land is eligible for Complete Communities. He said that if you do the math, then at an average density of 125 units per acre — the average across the city's Complete Communities — you get "86,000 additional homes we're adding to San Diego with the scrub of a pen."

Other critics suggested that citizens should not have to take transit to get to transit. "It's actually being called the end of transit, because it incentivizes development farther from where people will use it," said Tom Mullaney, with Livable San Diego. While the state’s “transit priority areas” use 1/2 mile as the distance to a major transit stop, the city's “sustainable development areas” extend that to one mile, which some say is too far. According to Neighbors for a Better San Diego, bus use falls off rapidly just 1/4 mile from a stop.

But Jessie O'Sullivan, with the mobility advocacy group Circulate San Diego, supported the change. "You've heard complaints that most people won't walk a mile to get to a bus stop. That's true. But this isn't just about walking to transit. Neighborhoods in SDAs are walkable, bikeable, and close to jobs," he said. “Even if people in these areas drive, they're going to drive shorter distances."

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Building bonanza?
Building bonanza?

The most contested update to the land development code has been passed 3-1 by the city's land use and housing committee. Sustainable development areas — the city's new term for places where transit-oriented housing can be built — was the "hot topic" of the proposed ordinance.

The term refers to places that have good walk, roll, bike, or other micro-mobility access to transit. It does not replace “transit priority areas,” which will remain in the code, applying to state programs that use that definition. Rather, it will apply to city incentive programs, mainly Complete Communities and the ADU density bonus program.

Sponsored
Sponsored

The city says the new definition aligns with climate equity and housing goals. Officials said the change has a huge potential to lift housing, expanding by 5224 acres the amount of developable land when compared to the current “transit priority areas,” which are defined by state law and don't account for physical barriers like steep hills and freeways that residents may encounter when trying to reach a bus or trolley.

Eligibility for the city's housing incentive programs will also expand: there is a potential increase of 3342 acres in areas with high economic and educational opportunities, and where affordable housing has historically struggled for a toehold.

Still, the move was not without its critics. A crowd of citizens spoke before the committee voted, most in opposition. Even vice-chair Joe LaCava, who said the concept originated from comments made by himself and councilmember Von Wilpert to try to align transit priority areas based on walkable and not geographic distance, wanted to hold it back. "It is a significant policy shift,” said LaCava, “which I strongly believe does not belong in the annual code update."

Geoffrey Hueter, chair of Neighbors For A Better San Diego, said it was buried in the staff report that 688 acres of commercial land is eligible for Complete Communities. He said that if you do the math, then at an average density of 125 units per acre — the average across the city's Complete Communities — you get "86,000 additional homes we're adding to San Diego with the scrub of a pen."

Other critics suggested that citizens should not have to take transit to get to transit. "It's actually being called the end of transit, because it incentivizes development farther from where people will use it," said Tom Mullaney, with Livable San Diego. While the state’s “transit priority areas” use 1/2 mile as the distance to a major transit stop, the city's “sustainable development areas” extend that to one mile, which some say is too far. According to Neighbors for a Better San Diego, bus use falls off rapidly just 1/4 mile from a stop.

But Jessie O'Sullivan, with the mobility advocacy group Circulate San Diego, supported the change. "You've heard complaints that most people won't walk a mile to get to a bus stop. That's true. But this isn't just about walking to transit. Neighborhoods in SDAs are walkable, bikeable, and close to jobs," he said. “Even if people in these areas drive, they're going to drive shorter distances."

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