By Ken Williams | Editor
The city’s long-range plans to build two modern recreation centers on the west mesa of Balboa Park along Sixth Avenue — to replace two decrepit facilities — is drawing fierce opposition from stakeholders including park preservationists, community groups and Bankers Hill residents.
Plans for the two rec centers are detailed in the proposed update of the Uptown Community Plan, listed under the draft of the Recreation Element. The proposal has been up for public review since June, and the Uptown Planners were scheduled to review the proposal and hear public comments at a special meeting called for Thursday night, Nov. 19, at the Balboa Park Club.
The deadline for final public comments is Dec. 1, as city planners are expected to present a final version of the proposed update in January. A community plan is a crucial policy guideline for local growth and development over the next 25 years.
The proposed Uptown Recreation Center would expand or replace the underused Balboa Club building located on Sixth Avenue between Juniper and Ivy streets. The Chess Club and the Horseshoe Club would likely be incorporated into the new complex, which would be 17,000 square feet and include a gymnasium, fitness rooms, and space for community meetings, arts and crafts, and other activities. The proposal also calls for a reconfiguration of the site to accommodate the relocated horseshoe courts as well as other active recreational activities, such as a children’s playground.
The proposed Redwood Recreation Center would be constructed near the Redwood Bridge Club, located on Sixth Avenue between Quince and Spruce streets, and west of Balboa Drive. This rec center would be 10,643 square feet and contain community meeting and multi-purpose rooms, fitness facilities, and space for arts and crafts.
City planners have said that the Uptown community — a sprawling area that includes Bankers Hill, Park West, Hillcrest, the Medical Complex, Mission Hills, Five Points, Middletown and University Heights west of Park Boulevard — is sorely lacking in parks and recreational facilities. The Uptown population is expected to crest at 56,025 at build-out, and the city’s General Plan calls for a rec center to be provided for every 25,000 residents; hence the proposed plans to build two rec centers.
But those proposed plans — which can be found on the city’s website and were presented to the public at a recent Uptown Planning Group meeting — apparently haven’t been widely publicized among the various stakeholders. And they were up in arms at the Nov. 9 meeting of the Metro San Diego Community Development Corporation (CDC).
Jim Hughes, immediate past chairman of the Friends of Balboa Park, said the proposed plans caught his volunteer organization by “complete surprise.” He said the Friends group totally oppose putting two rec facilities on the “front door to the park,” which is how he described the west mesa facing Sixth Avenue. He said parking would become a huge problem in an area that already faces a shortage of parking spaces.
“This is the last place you would want to put two recreation centers,” Hughes said.
“This is not a NIMBY [not in my backyard] thing for me,” Hughes continued. “Who would want this here?”
Paul Meyer, from the Balboa Park Conservancy, said he was “appalled” by the proposal. He said the Conservancy has received “a firestorm of emails” from constituents who are opposed to the plan.
“My feeling is that support groups will go ballistic when they hear about this,” he added.
Nancy Carter, who said she volunteers at several organizations based in Balboa Park without naming them, said the news came out of the blue for her. She was unaware of the contents of the proposed Uptown Community Plan update.
“This is nowhere in any park plan I’ve ever seen,” Carter said. “A much wider community participation is needed on this. … We already have too many structures in the park. Where are people going to park? … This is a horrible idea.”
Leo Wilson, who chaired the Metro CDC meeting, asked the two dozen people gathered in the ninth-floor conference room in the Fifth & Laurel Building if anyone supported the plan. Not a single person raised a hand.
Jim Frost, an architect who lives in Bankers Hill, said he did not know of any city plan that governs what happens in the west mesa of Balboa Park. “What we need is a plan for the west mesa,” he said. Wilson replied that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce such a plan, suggesting that was cost-prohibitive.
The Metro CDC then voted 18-0 to send a letter to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the City Council and city planners to “strongly oppose” the plan to build two rec centers along Sixth Avenue and to urge the planners to meet with stakeholders to discuss the issue further.
In a follow-up with Wilson, he further explained to San Diego Uptown News why the group opposed the proposal.
“A recreation center can be built in an urban area; why put two of them within less than a mile of each other?” he wondered. “If you stand at the Sixth Avenue and Laurel Street intersection, you would be able to see both of the recreation centers. Why not a recreation center in Hillcrest and maybe one in Bankers Hill or western Uptown? The distances could be maximized to make them within walking distance of as many people in Uptown as possible.”
To read the entire proposed update to the Uptown Community Plan, visit bit.ly/20MQlfC. To read only the Recreation Element portion of the proposal, visit bit.ly/1WSk6a2.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.