Uptown Planners nearly done with Community Plan Update
By Ken Williams | Editor
You can almost hear the fat lady singing.
The Uptown Planners are putting the finishing touches on the Uptown Community Plan Update (CPU), and are expected to add final comments at the monthly meeting scheduled at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest.
Various issues involving the CPU dominated the Aug. 2 meeting of the volunteer advisory group to the city’s Planning Department. Supporters and detractors of increased density pleaded their cases to the Uptown Planners, and board members weighed in with their own thoughts about the update progress.
Also, about 50 residents of Middletown returned to Uptown Planners, seeking to clarify language in the CPU that affects their community in their ongoing fight involving traffic and safety concerns along India Street.
After a lively discussion, the local planners voted 10-4-1 to approve a motion to request the city to delete all references in the June 2016 CPU — the current proposal — to the removal of parking and/or sidewalks from India Street in the section from Palm Street to Washington Street. The motion also called for a written statement to be incorporated in the final CPU that the city will not add the removals in the final document, which is expected to be approved by the City Council this fall.
The CPU discusses the removal of parking and/or sidewalks from India Street as part of possible mitigation, but rejected the idea in tiny print on several graphics. Residents said parking was at a premium on India Street, and removal of any parking spots to add more traffic lanes was unacceptable.
About 100 Middletown residents attended the July 5 Uptown Planners meeting and described how they have observed speeding drivers as well as confused and lost tourists trying to find the airport’s consolidated Rental Car Center, located at 3355 Admiral Boland Way. You can read that article at bit.ly/2aOqrXg.
Comments on CPU
At the end of the Aug. 2 meeting, Leo Wilson, chair of Uptown Planners, opened the floor for public comments on the overall CPU.
Several representatives of the Pernicano family — who own valuable land along Fifth and Sixth avenues in Hillcrest that includes a long-vacant restaurant carrying the family’s name — urged the Uptown Planners to keep the current recommendations in the CPU that allow for higher density along transit routes in the Uptown area. Those routes include Fourth, Fifth and Sixth avenues, Park Boulevard, University Avenue and Washington Street.
Sherman D. Harmer Jr., president of Urban Housing Partners and one of the people representing the Pernicano family, thanked the minority of the Uptown Planners who have argued against downzoning and criticized the majority who oppose higher density.
“If your recommendation goes through, it’s a disaster to property owners,” Harmer said. “Nobody is going to build at 43 units per acre and with a 60-foot height limit.”
Harmer said the Uptown Planners were sending conflicting signals to the Planning Commission and the City Council by opposing great density when the city’s new Climate Action Plan (CAP) encourages density along transit routes.
Harmer is working with a group of property owners who have formed the Uptown Gateway Council. Members include Bennet Greenwald, Nick Totah, Lucy Burni, Charlie Jadallah, Ron Pelman, Gary Pernicano, KG Ventures, Lyda Cohen, Mike Johsz, Roger Arko, Chris Shaw, Ronald R. Bamburgun, Robert H. Schwab, Westcore Properties and Clara Wreidt, according to the hillcrestgateway.com website.
Ian Epley, a local architect and former member of the Uptown Planners, said he was glad the city dropped the historic core designation for Hillcrest in favor of the Main Street America program. He also applauded the increased density supported along Park Boulevard, which matches up with what the North Park Planning Committee approved in its CPU. He noted that while Uptown Planners fought density and supported height restrictions, the city’s redevelopment dollars went to places like East Village and Little Italy.
Several members of the millennial generation spoke in favor of higher density and being able to live, work and play in the same neighborhood without ever having to own a car.
One speaker scoffed at the Uptown Gateway Council, saying they were only out for the almighty dollar instead of caring about local residents.
After the public comments were closed, members of the Uptown Planners got to talk about the process, which has been ongoing for almost seven years.
Tim Gahagan said he was concerned about increased density and traffic problems because transit and infrastructure aren’t keeping up with development.
Cindy Thorsen said she was disappointed about the lack of parks and the CPU shows a deficit for years to come.
Mat Wahlstrom slammed local business groups for wielding too much influence over the CPU.
Tom Mulaney said the CPU as written “will be a disaster” and predicted legal challenges if it is approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Roy Dahl railed against the process. “We didn’t get serious about the CPU until the past few months,” he said.
Leo Wilson said he is excited about what is happening in his neighborhood of Bankers Hill, which has tall buildings mixed in with private homes. He said Mission Hills was able to keep its village feel in the CPU. But he said he was sad about the ongoing conflict in Hillcrest between the business community and residents, calling it a “malignant sore” and a “battle zone.”
Michael Brennan, the secretary, said he was happy with the current CPU and said the plans for Park Boulevard “complements what’s happening on the North Park side” of the thoroughfare.
Dana Hook acknowledged that she is part of the board minority and said the CPU does not match up with the goals of the CAP.
Gary Bonner worried about the lack of parks and was disappointed the bicycle community wasn’t more involved in the CPU to push for filling in the gap on University Avenue on the east-west biking route. The business community fought to keep parking spaces instead of allowing protected bike lanes from First Avenue to the state Route 163 overpass.
Maya Rosas said she was in favor of density on the transit corridors and called downzoning “a step backward.” She supports the CPU as it is, and argued that growth is not a cancer.
Ken Tablang said he was standing with Rosas. “I love the way Bankers Hill is turning out,” he said.
Bill Ellig said he was a multi-modal person and bicyclist, but added that “it’s going to take more than transit to get people out of their cars.” He also said the update process was “rushed” to make a time deadline.
The Uptown Planners also:
- Voted to clean up policies listed under “Community Revitalization” in the Economic Prosperity Element of the CPU. They deleted three policies involving local business district improvement associations and reworded another policy to delete a reference to the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association. The reworded policy supports the designation of Hillcrest’s core as a National Main Street project. Main Street America targets historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts like University Avenue in Hillcrest with efforts to catalyze reinvestment, create jobs and foster pride in the neighborhood.
- Voted to send a letter to Planning Director Jeff Murphy and Kurtis Steinert Sr., an environmental planner specializing in the city’s CAP, to express concerns about the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and recommend the adoption of the Density Redistribution Alternative. The letter also offers resolutions on mobility and recreation, and asks several questions about the EIR and CAP.
- Voted to send a resolution to the planners pointing out that most of the provisions in the Urban Design Element of the CPU are too vague to be useful and should be rewritten for clarity.
- Listened to an informational presentation on the Uptown development impact fee (DIF) study by Frank January, a senior management analyst with the Planning Department. January asked the Uptown Planners to prioritize their wish list for community amenities such as parks and recreation facilities, a new library and fire station and mobility improvements. The wish list totals more than half a billion dollars in possible projects — and January stressed that the DIF collections won’t cover but a fraction of the proposed community amenities. The issue was tabled to a subcommittee meeting scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 18 at KTU&A Planning and Landscape Architecture, located at 3916 Normal St. in Hillcrest. The meeting is open to the public.
- Unanimously approved, via the consent agenda, the Tricanyon Townhomes, located at 2724 Reynard Way in the Middletown community. The project consists of a small lot subdivision creating five individual parcels and construction of five three-story residential units on a vacant 0.21-acre site. The project will incorporate roof-mounted solar panels sufficient to generate at least 50 percent of the energy needs of the townhomes.
- Heard chair Leo Wilson salute Uptown Planners board member Soheil Nakhshab, principal of Nakhshab Development and Design, for being unanimously selected by the City Council on Aug. 2 as the top bidder for a city-owned property that includes the historic Truax House. Nakhshab bid $2.5 million for the property located at 540 W. Laurel St. and 2513/2515 Union St. He plans to preserve, restore and memorialize the Truax House, named for local LGBT leader Dr. A. Brad Truax, who used the house as a hospice to serve AIDS patients during the 1980s. According to a news release from City Councilman Todd Gloria, Nakhshab will dedicate the ground floor of the Truax House as a community center. The adjacent properties will be demolished and redeveloped with a mixed-use building that will feature a coffee shop, office space and residential units, 10 percent of which will be dedicated to very low income housing. The buyer also plans to work with adjacent property owners to provide public access to Maple Canyon.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.