Jeff Clemetson | Contributing Editor
On Oct. 29, San Diego City Council voted to approve the Old Town Community Plan Update (CPU). The 180-page document provides a framework of land use and urban design policies to guide in the development of the community during the next 20 to 30 years.
“As we rebuild our city for the future, we want to make sure that historic neighborhoods like Old Town retain their community character while also allowing for future growth that meets our housing needs and protects our environment,” stated Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer in a press release. “This updated plan is a big step in the right direction and I want to thank the many community leaders and residents for working collaboratively to get this across the finish line.”
The Old Town CPU is the latest in a renewed effort to update community plans citywide through the Planning Department. Since 2014, San Diego has updated 10 community plans, with Old Town marking the 11th to be completed. In the previous decade, only one community plan was completed. Five more community plan updates are currently underway.
The Old Town CPU is divided into several areas: historic preservation, land use, mobility, urban design, economic prosperity, public safety, recreation, conservation and noise. The plan, developed in collaboration with Old Town stakeholders and city staff, incorporates changes to meet the goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan.
Some of the changes in the proposed plan highlight Old Town as more of a residential community, improving pedestrian and bicycle connections to key community destinations, and looking for more opportunities for visitor-oriented parking.
The updated Community Plan includes measures to increase use of transit, improve commuter walking and biking opportunities, and targets transit-oriented development within transit priority areas.
“Old Town is unique to San Diego, serving as both a major historical destination and a residential community,” stated Councilmember Chris Ward in a press release. “I’m pleased that the updates included in this community plan will add much-needed density to our housing stock and strengthen walking and biking connections between this community, the adjacent Midway community, and San Diego River Park.”
Old Town is a historic and cultural destination for visitors and contains several historically designated landmarks including Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, Heritage County Park and Presidio Regional Park.
The last community plan for Old Town was created in the late 1980s, making an update essential for San Diego’s projected growth.
Based on SANDAG forecast models, the projected growth in the CPU over the next 30 years could see Old Town’s population expand from 832 to 2,430 by adding 931 new housing units. Projected job growth on the other hand will be meager, only adding 230 jobs.
Like most of the city’s new CPUs, Old Town will embrace adding mixed-use housing developments — except in sub-districts that are not deemed historic such as the Presidio, Historic Core and Heritage Park areas.
For the four residential sub-districts — Jefferson, Linwood, Congress and Mason — the plan calls to maintain the “small-scale character” of the neighborhoods, allowing for only additional single-family homes or multi-family units on larger parcels.
Under the new plan, the Hillside sub-district will also remain largely unchanged, with a mix of residential and hotel uses permitted.
The plan does “strongly encourage the development of workforce, affordable, and senior housing in proximity to the Old Town Transit Center” — which is in line with the city’s overall plan to encourage transit use by residents.
In the Hortensia sub-district at the southern gateway to Old Town, the plan allows for a mix of retail, office, hotel and residential uses. It also envisions the Fremont/Ballard Parent Center site to be turned into mixed-use development.
The Taylor sub-district at Old Town’s northern gateway could potentially add the most density. The plan encourages transit-oriented mixed-use developments and allows for up to 73 dwelling units per acre on the Navy Public Works property should the Navy ever relocate.
Parking and mobility
Parking around Old Town could potentially change, especially around the historic areas and Presidio Park where the new plan calls for changes to some of the roads currently used by vehicles.
Under the plan, the city will consider removing or limiting vehicular access on Presidio Drive from Jackson Street to the Serra Museum and the plan also supports closing Calhoun Street and Wallace Street to vehicles.
To accommodate added pedestrians, the plan relocates surface parking from the Historic Core to parking facilities in Taylor sub-district. The plan envisions a developed parking structure at the Caltrans District 11 site, with possible funding from Caltrans, SANDAG and the state parks department. Another parking structure at the Old Town Transit Center is also mentioned in the CPU. If other parking structures are built, the plan allows for the city-owned parking lot on Twiggs Street to be used as a plaza for public gatherings.
In place of vehicle streets, the Old Town CPU calls for added pedestrian and bike connectors and trails throughout the Presidio Park and Historic Core area by creating a pedestrian connection along Jackson Street between Presidio Drive and Mason Street to improve access to the rec center; studying and developing a trail system in Presidio Park to improve bike and pedestrian circulation and connection to open spaces; creating a pedestrian connection along Taylor Street north of Presidio Drive to improve access to the northeast area of park; and making the Arista Street connection either a local street designed like the existing section of Arista, or turning it into a pedestrian path at least 30 feet wide.
To see the complete plan, visit sandiego.gov/oldtownupdate.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.