Guest Editorial: A response to Benjamin Nicholls

Posted: December 4th, 2015 | Hillcrest, Opinion, Opinion & News | 7 Comments

By Nancy Moors

Editor’s note: Nancy Moors is responding to a guest editorial by Benjamin Nicholls, “HBA: yes to National Main Street Program, no to historic district” [Volume 7, Issue 24 or]

Unfortunately, once more, Benjamin Nicholls, Executive Director of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), has weaved a tale, spinning his version of what historic districts are; the history of planned boutique hotels in the neighborhood; how the Interim Height Ordinance (IHO) has affected Hillcrest; and the creation of a National Main Street Program.

Ben says: “This proposed district would put any new development in the heart of downtown Hillcrest in peril by creating a special review process.”

In reality, historic districts provide more certainty to both residents and developers about the historic value of properties.

In a historic district, property has already been separated into “contributing” and “non-contributing” categories. The contributing properties must follow preservation guidelines. The non-contributing properties have very few restrictions.

Historic districts are good for owners, for developers, and for the community!

Ben says: “Under this new historic district proposal, the former Pernicano’s restaurant would be locked up in the development review process for an indefinite period of time.”

In reality, the Pernicano family has stated on numerous occasions that they are waiting until the Uptown Community Plan update is finalized so they can have certainty in regards to their development. Once the plan is finalized and if a historic district is established, the Pernicanos will know whether their property falls into the “contributing” or “non-contributing” category.

Ben says: “Hillcrest has a mandatory 65-feet height ordinance that was supposed to be temporary but has now been in effect for almost 10 years.”

In reality, the Interim Height Ordinance was an effort driven by the neighborhood.

A survey by Uptown Planners in 2006 showed that over 80 percent of those surveyed supported the ordinance. The IHO was endorsed by many organizations, including the Hillcrest Town Council, Save Our Heritage Organisation, Mission Hills Business Improvement District, the University Heights Community Development Corp., Save Hillcrest, Mission Hills Heritage … and the Hillcrest Business Association.

The IHO was approved and extended by the City Council on several occasions. The last time the IHO came before the City Council, the council agreed that the sensible thing to do was to place the IHO in affect until the Uptown Community Plan update is finalized.

For the record, the Hillcrest Town Council (HTC) approved the following resolution in January 2014. It stated:

“For those areas in Hillcrest covered by the Interim Height Ordinance, the HTC recommends a 50-foot height limit. Heights up to 65 feet can be considered based on discretionary review.

“On Fourth Avenue between Robinson & Upas, the height limit should be 32 feet, with heights up to 50 feet to be considered based on discretionary review.”

The HTC offered no support at any time to heights over 50 feet to 65 feet in Hillcrest.

Ben says: “I am reminded that this would be the third time a developer has proposed a boutique hotel in Hillcrest and the third time these kinds of restrictions contributed to halting it.”

In reality, the first proposed boutique hotel was at Third and University. The project developer proposed a 72-foot-tall hotel. But the Uptown Planners unanimously approved a building height of 65 feet or lower. The developer agreed but was unable to secure financing during the downturn in the economy and did not move forward. The brief talk of a boutique hotel was on Fifth Avenue between University and Washington. It was short-lived and never took the first step of presenting to the Uptown Planners.

Lastly, the HBA has been talking about joining the Main Street organization since 2010. So far it’s been all talk and no action.

—Nancy Moors is co-founder of the Hillcrest History Guild and past president of the Hillcrest Business Association.



  1. Sue Sneeringer says:

    Thank you, Nancy, for setting the record straight. If anyone has taken a walk around Hillcrest lately, you can see that there is plenty of residential development going on and yet businesses are increasingly shutting their doors. Can the HBA tell us why this is happening?

  2. Old Hillcrester says:

    Why do Hillcrest businesses continue to close? Perhaps it’s because the HBA continues to promote events instead of providing needed services to its business members.

  3. Robert says:

    Hillcrest could be a destination for people who want a nice neighborhood to walk or ride in on a day out. Instead the HBA promotes dangerous streets and wonders why their businesses fail.

  4. […] a contrast to the neighborhood just to the west, where efforts to create a historical district are the latest tool being used to keep young professionals (or anyone young, for that matter) out. […]

  5. Paul Jamason says:

    Ms Moors said, “A survey by Uptown Planners in 2006 showed that over 80 percent of those surveyed supported the (Interim Height Ordinance).” The respondents of this unscientific survey were likely single family homeowners who benefit from higher home prices through exclusionary housing policies. Of course they would support the IHO, which effectively blocked any new housing in Hillcrest for years. Yet if you were to survey younger San Diegans who are still living with their parents or planning to leave due to our city’s unaffordability, you’d get a much different result.

    The author illustrates why Uptown’s land use decisions shouldn’t be made by Uptown residents alone, when state affordable housing laws and the city’s transit-oriented development goals are ignored. Downzoning, reduced height limits and questionable historic districts are all part of an effort to prevent any new housing because of parking and traffic concerns. The result is increased inequality in a neighborhood that was once progressive.

    I agree that we need to preserve Hillcrest’s historic architecture, but other historic districts in San Diego have reduced height limits on commercial strips to just 30 feet. Instead, let’s strengthen existing historical review laws, so Hillcrest businesses can’t continue to tear down affordable housing for parking lots.

  6. Justin G. says:

    Not sure what Sue is talking about when she said there is plenty of residential development going on around Hillcrest? Looks to me that neighborhood has been frozen in time for the last 15 years or so!

    Why is it that people living outside of Hillcrest can see that the neighborhood is dying a slow death, but those who live/own businesses there don’t? Hillcrest needs to reinvent itself if it wants to compete with downtown and every other Uptown neighborhood.

    Until then, I’ll keep watch on the decline of the once envied neighborhood from afar (I sure as heck have no reason to shop or eat there since everything seems to be closing).

    Poor D Bar had to learn the hard way that Hillcrest is no longer the destination it once was. Head east to North Park or Little Italy if you want vibrancy.

  7. Deirdre Lee says:


    Before I could respond to Ben Nicholis’ irrational commentary (Nov.6, 2015), Nancy Moores responded with just about all I needed to say, excellently and well documented (Dec.4, 2015).

    Anyone who says there is and has been no development in Hillcrest/Uptown has large blinders on. There is and has been, for decades, major development and increased density and it continues.

    As far as businesses closing, we cannot eat out every night, and we did not ever have really “high end” shops in Hillcrest. The trendy boutiques and gift shops do come and go for a variety of reasons.

    I have lived here for thirty years. Hillcrest is not dying a “slow death” but neighborhoods do progress in cycles. Ben thinks we are in competition with North Park and they are winning because we have a 65′ height limit. Huh?? NP and SP have no buildings over three stories and they are doing great. (South Park created its present resurgence by down zoning decades ago to respect and preserve the neighborhood’s historic character.)

    What is really bringing down Hillcrest is this—and more so than any other neighborhood, even downtown. The issue that is enormously challenging Hillcrest and Uptown, dwarfing the parking issue, is the HOMELESS ISSUE!!!
    It is unrelenting, heartbreaking, disgusting and aggravating! OMG! It is worse than ever and apparently growing. It faces us every day, morning and evening, right outside our homes and businesses.

    If Ben and the Hillcrest Bussiness Association are really serious about assisting Hillcrest’ success, they will show up at the Mayor’s State of the City Address (Jan 14, 2016, 6 PM, Balboa Theatre) with placards demanding ACTION on the HOMELESS ISSUE NOW.This issue is harming central San Diego’s economic development all over, but in Hillcrest as a small neighborhood community it is overwhelming.

    This is Hillcrest’s worst enemy.

    Deirdre Lee
    Hillcrest/Bankers’ Hill

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