Guest Editorial: Uptown CPU crashes and burns at City Council

Posted: December 2nd, 2016 | Opinion, Opinion & News | No Comments

By Barry Hager and Sanford Lakoff

The Uptown Community Planning Update — over seven years in the making — collided with the City Council on Nov. 14 and went down in flames. Scores of Mission Hills residents attended the hearing that lasted until after 10 p.m. that evening.

Unfortunately, the result left many with a feeling of déjà vu, as the “new” plan approved by the council looks very much like the old one adopted in 1988. Except that this time developers are ready and eager to take advantages of the attractions of our historic neighborhoods to impose high-rise projects — with the council’s blessing.

Here are some key outcomes of the plan — good and bad — as it relates to Mission Hills:

  • Some single-family areas surrounding Washington and University — 1, 4, 5, 8 and 11 on the Mission Hill Heritage (MHH) land-use map — will be re-designated to permit only single-family zoning.
  • The commercial core area of Mission Hills — roughly from Dove Street to Ibis to Fort Stockton — will retain the 1988 limit of up to 73 dwelling units per acre — well above the 44 we had recommended. Depending on the lot size and including bonuses for affordable housing, that zoning rule could allow for buildings as tall as seven to 10 floors. Several blocks adjacent to the core commercial area of Mission Hills and Reynard Way will retain the 44-unit limit.
  • In the commercial core area, “ministerial projects” (i.e., those that do not require review and approval) can have a height limit of up to 50 feet, while “discretionary projects” (i.e., those that do require scrutiny) could go as high as 100 feet. And projects using the state affordable housing density bonus could build even higher.
  • Nothing in the new plan requires the city to move forward in a timely manner to implement the 19 potential historic districts in Uptown — nine of which are in Mission Hills. And the new plan deletes the potential historic district of Presidio Hills — the area above Old Town that includes historic Presidio Park.

This new plan overrides one arrived at in a seven-year negotiation between the Planning Department and community groups in the Uptown region. The plan on the table was not ideal but it took a balanced approach that allowed for a 41 percent increase in housing units while preserving height limits and single-family zoning in most areas. Only one business day before the council hearing, the commission staff released a “modification” that gutted what had been agreed to and summarily dismissed the MHH land-use map.

Despite appeals from many speakers at the hearing, the council voted 7-2 (with David Alvarez and Sherri Lightner opposed) to overturn years of work representing the community’s vision for the future. We especially lament the demise of the 50-foot height limit in the commercial core and the return to the potential density levels set in 1988 for other areas of Mission Hills. The last-minute changes also impact Hillcrest, which could well become unrecognizable 10 to 15 years from now.

Questions that remain unanswered:

  • Why did the Planning Commission staff abruptly abandon the recommended course of action previously agreed to?
  • What influence if any was exerted by the Greenwald Company and supporters of its high-density and tall “Uptown Gateway Project” now in the works for Hillcrest?
  • Why did the council ignore the protests of 880 residents who signed a petition to retain the 50-foot height limit in our commercial core?

Over the next few weeks, MHH will review the outcome and consider our options, including the possibility of a court challenge. We welcome your advice. You can contact us at or 619-497-1193. More information is available on our website:

Barry Hager is a board member of Mission Hills Heritage and Sanford Lakoff is a professor emeritus of political science at UC San Diego. Both live in Mission Hills.

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