By Benjamin Nicholls
The comment period for the draft Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill Community Plans is drawing to a close. There’s still a small window for the public to weigh in before these new plans head into the Planning Commission and City Council for ratification.
Community plans are city documents that guide new development in their respective neighborhoods for the next 20 to 30 years. These plans set the neighborhood intentions for new buildings, zoning, parks and many other things. There are many neighborhood plans that have stalled for years, so it’s great that these are now moving forward.
As the executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association, my concern is for the business community of Hillcrest, which is a part of Uptown Community Plan. For the most part, the Uptown Community Plan provides an excellent framework that addresses the many issues in the Uptown community, including housing, parking, transportation, open spaces and design.
The city Planning Department has also included within the framework a proposal to create a historic district similar to the Gaslamp district, which encompasses the entire heart and business district of Hillcrest. This proposed district would put any new development in the heart of downtown Hillcrest in peril by creating a special review process outside of the typical development review process. This could greatly impact the cost of any new development. While there may be buildings in the core of the Hillcrest business district that might have historic value, to make a determination without any prior review that all buildings in this area have historic value is a bit of a stretch.
It has been demonstrated that creating protective districts in the core of Hillcrest stagnates growth. Hillcrest currently has a mandatory 65-feet height ordinance that was supposed to be temporary but has now been in effect for almost 10 years. As a result, we’ve seen very few new developments in the neighborhood. Under this new historic district proposal, the former Pernicano’s restaurant (which has been in the news lately for the seller’s great ideas to develop a boutique hotel) would be locked up in the development review process for an indefinite period of time. This creates a financial risk to the developer that may have a devastating effect on the development of this blighted property.
As I speak with business community leaders, I am reminded that this would be the third time a developer has proposed a boutique hotel in Hillcrest and the third time these kind of restrictions contributed to halting it. Hillcrest can no longer afford to let these great and necessary improvements slip through our fingers. A historic district in the heart of Hillcrest will create negative unintended consequences.
With the assistance and input of many members of the Hillcrest business community, HBA examined the proposed Uptown Community Plan and made a suggestion that would support our small-business community while preserving the actual historic buildings in Hillcrest. We are calling for the creation of a National Main Street Program (NMSP) in Hillcrest.
The NMSP is a nationally recognized economic development and historic preservation tool that has been widely successful in other areas of the state and locally as well. The National Main Street Program views historic buildings as an asset to a business district and recruits businesses that benefit from being in characterful historic spaces. Coronado, North Park and Ocean Beach all have successful (and in some cases award-winning) Main Street programs.
The Planning Department and City Council know that we need a plan for Uptown that encourages new smart growth and supports the business community. Let’s make sure that the new plan for Hillcrest includes the right tools for the job such as the creation of a Main Street Program in favor of a historic district.
—Benjamin Nicholls is the executive director of Hillcrest Business Association.