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Talking bicycling, Gateway, history

Posted: March 24th, 2017 | Featured, News | No Comments

By Ken Williams | Editor

The Uptown Bikeways plan, the Uptown Gateway project and the potential historic designation of the old Rees-Stealy Medical Clinic drew the attention of Bankers Hill business leaders at the monthly meeting of the Metro San Diego Community Development Corp. (Metro CDC).

The meeting, held March 13 in St. Paul’s Manor Café Room, attracted about 40 members who heard updates on three big projects that will directly or indirectly affect Bankers Hill.

A bicyclist uses a protected bike lane, which is located between the sidewalk and the parallel parking. (Courtesy of SANDAG)

Uptown Bikeways

Mariah VanZeer, an associate active transportation planner for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), in her role as project manager discussed the Uptown Bikeways time line.

VanZeer focused on the “Fourth and Fifth Avenue Bikeways” portion of the project, which is the first phase of the Uptown Bikeways project that will eventually connect Uptown to Downtown, Old Town, Mission Valley, North Park and Balboa Park.

The first phase creates protected bike lanes from B Street Downtown, north to Washington Street in Hillcrest, via Fourth and Fifth avenues.

According to SANDAG: “Separated bike lanes are protected from vehicle lanes by a vertical element such as raised medians, on-street parking, or bollards, and provide a degree of safety desired by people who are interested in biking for transportation, but are concerned about the safety of riding with vehicle traffic. Buffered bike lanes are conventional bike lanes combined with a painted buffer that increases the distance between people on bikes and the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane and/or parking lane.”

The project includes traffic-calming measures as well as improvements to protect pedestrians, such as curb extensions, rapid flashing beacons and high visibility crosswalks.

Additional lighting and landscaping are on the wish list of enhancements — which are not provided by SANDAG or the city — but would have to be paid for by local community groups, such as property and business owners along the routes, or by a maintenance assessment district (MAD) that would need to be created.

VanZeer said the project jumped its biggest hurdle after clearing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on July 22, 2016. Now in the final design stage, the project is expected to begin construction in 2018. The budget for the “Fourth and Fifth Avenue Bikeways” portion is $13.2 million.

Metro CDC moderator Leo Wilson took SANDAG to task for poor communication with Bankers Hill property and business owners.

“SANDAG should bring property owners to the table regarding this project,” said Wilson, who received reassurances from VanZeer that she would comply.

One potential problem appears to be landscaping and lighting. The Metro CDC, for example, wants the project to have enhanced landscaping and streetlights included midblock as a safety feature. VanZeer said she is waiting confirmation from the City Attorney that local parking revenue can be spent on those enhancements.

Tom Fox, a parking committee member, said the agency has the money to pay for the enhancements as well as the blinking lights at crosswalks.

Several Metro CDC members criticized the proposed acorn-style streetlights, saying they create light pollution in the neighborhood instead of only focusing their beams downward to the street. Others begged for the elimination of street benches, saying they attract the homeless, and installation of trash receptacles that would prevent the homeless from scavenging and leaving garbage on the streets.

Uptown Gateway

Marcela Escobar-Eck, principal with the local land-use planning agency Atlantic Group, gave a brief talk about the Uptown Gateway concept.

She showed a map outlining the Hillcrest core where a group of 15 property owners are hoping to launch the massive Uptown Gateway District project. The “gateway” to Hillcrest is roughly between Fourth and Seventh avenues and Washington Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Escobar-Eck said one of the proposals calls for building an underground parking garage in the Rite Aid site, on Robinson Avenue between Fifth and Sixth avenues, with a park on top. She said since that concept was floated publicly, Gateway officials have heard negative feedback about underground parking, so they are now open to an above-ground parking structure with a park on the roof.

Wilson said Metro CDC would recommend that shuttles run up and down Fourth and Fifth avenues to Bankers Hill, should the Hillcrest garage be built.

Escobar-Eck said Gateway officials would work with local parking district officials about providing parking, but Wilson quipped that “parking money [is] for parking, not petunias.”

To read more about our coverage of the Uptown Gateway project or the Atlantic Group, visit bit.ly/2nkqm3T.

Rees-Stealy Medical Clinic

John LaRaia, senior development director/capital provider at H.G. Fenton Company, told Metro CDC that his company is in escrow to buy the old Rees-Stealy Medical Clinic located at 2001 Fourth Ave.

LaRaia’s presentation was similar to the one made at the March 7 meeting of Uptown Planners. He said H.G. Fenton opposed the staff recommendation to the city’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) that the entire complex be designated as a historical resource. HRB was scheduled to vote on the matter at its meeting on March 23.

The medical clinic was built in three different decades (1926 and 1928, 1938 and 1965) by two master architects (Louis Gill and Homer Delawie) for two of San Diego’s pioneer medical professionals, Drs. Clarence Rees and Clair Stealy.

The HRB staff said the three distinct architectural styles are Mission/Spanish Eclectic, Art Deco and Brutalism.

LaRaia indicted that H.G. Fenton was willing to preserve the original clinic and the Art Deco structure, but called the nearly windowless Brutalism building “problematic” to work with.

Like the Uptown Planners, the Metro CDC members voted 13-0-1 to support efforts to save the first two phases of the clinic. They agreed with the developer regarding Section C, the Delawie addition.

To read our coverage of the Uptown Planners meeting on this issue, visit bit.ly/2n6TVFy.

—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at ken@sdcnn.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.

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