Hillcrest 111 developer compromises with Uptown Planners

Posted: June 16th, 2017 | Featured, News, Uptown Planners | No Comments

By Ken Williams | Editor

Even though the Hillcrest 111 mixed-use development has already been approved by city planners, the developer Greystar came back to the Uptown Planners on June 6 to offer a rather unexpected but welcomed olive branch to the citizen-elected volunteer board.

Jim Ivory, representing Greystar, told board members that city planners have already approved plans for the project and that the developer was returning to the Uptown Planners to address some of their concerns.

Hillcrest 111 will now have a stepback along Robinson Avenue starting on the fourth floor. (Artist rendering by Architects Orange)

“We heard you,” Ivory said. “And we want to be part of this neighborhood.”

Hillcrest 111 will feature 111 apartment units, including nine designated for very-low-income earners, as well as 4,800 square feet of retail space on both Robinson and Seventh avenues.

On the south side of the complex, the developer will also build a three-level underground garage for AT&T, the seller of the 1-acre lot that has been used to park the company’s trucks, vans and personal vehicles. The detached garage will not have public parking because AT&T needs a secure facility to park their vehicles that often carry expensive equipment. Another underground garage — serving the apartment complex — will have some public parking for customers of the retail businesses that will rent in the Hillcrest 111 spaces.

Greystar applied for a Process 2 Neighborhood Development Permit, one of the Planning Department’s easier application processes, simply requiring action by the Uptown Planners and then a decision by the city’s Planning Department staff.

At the April 4 meeting of Uptown Planners, board members expressed their frustrations that city planners were not paying attention to their recommendations for the project. The Uptown Planners is an advisory group to city planners, who are not obligated to rubber-stamp the board’s recommendations.

At that meeting, the Uptown Planners voted to potentially appeal the Hillcrest 111 project if the hearing officer approved the Process 2 permit without several modifications that the board recommended. The hearing officer has now approved the plans, and that was apparently the reason Greystar returned to Uptown Planners on June 6 with an update to the project.

Ivory told the board members that Greystar will now accept the Uptown Planners recommendation for a stepback of the building along Robinson Avenue.

“We can give you a 10-foot stepback,” he said, starting on the third floor. As a design feature, a stepback breaks up the monotony of a square-box building and adds visual appeal to pedestrians.

The board members also wanted a commitment to solar, and Ivory said that Greystar will use solar thermal heating for the apartments and the swimming pool.

The project changes came with a cost, which Ivory described as a “reduction in efficiencies.” He said some apartment units on the upper floors along Robinson Avenue would be smaller in size and that the developer also had to shrink internal courtyards, among other things.

Ivory said the setback on the upper floors of the seven-story front building of the complex will force the developer to move the utilities on the roof further back from the street, and that is expected to lower the building’s height along Robinson Avenue from 94 feet to 82 feet.

The new compromise pleased a majority of the board members. Jay Newington joined a number of members who thanked Greystar for coming back with a new plan.

“You listened to what the board had to say,” he said. “I appreciate the effort.”

But Cindy Thorsen called the architectural design “an eyesore” and Amie Hayes said she had a number of concerns and could not support the project.

Ivory asked the Uptown Planners to reconsider its vote to appeal the project.

After a discussion, the Uptown Planners voted 11-3-1 to appeal the project only if Greystar does not submit the updated plans to city planners. Marcela Escobar-Eck, principal with Atlantis Group Land Use Planning that is working with Greystar on the project, promised the board that they would present the updated plans as soon as possible.

To read previous coverage of Hillcrest 111, go to and

Mission Hills project

An action item to approve a new tentative map for a subdivision to create a third parcel from two existing parcels in Mission Hills generated a lot of community comments at the June 6 meeting.

The property owners of 4211 Cosoy Way and 2521 Presidio Drive are proposing to subdivide the two parcels so they can create a third one, to allow the building of an expensive home that some were calling a “spec house,” which would probably sell for around $3 million.

Uptown Planners chair Leo Wilson said the board received more than 30 emails and letters regarding the project. Most of the people at the meeting spoke against approving the subdivision.

The house would be built on a 0.635-acre lot at 4219 Cosoy Way near the intersection with Presidio Drive. The steep, narrow and winding road is considered a substandard street without sidewalks or bicycle lanes — and many speakers cited that as a reason to turn down the request.

Sharon Gehl, a local activist who lives in Mission Hills, said adding a seventh house to that stretch of Cosoy Way would not change the fact that the street is substandard but also would not negatively impact the neighborhood.

Robert Rose, a neighbor, said there were “six blind driveways” on the winding road that posed safety issues for motorists and bicyclists.

Constantine, one of the property owners involved in the project whose home would be next-door on Cosoy Way, said the architect had redrawn plans for the spec house’s garage so there would be a 36-foot driveway that would allow the homeowners to turn their vehicles around instead of having to back out into the street.

Board member Soheil Nakshab — a developer who announced at the meeting that he had closed escrow on the historic Truax House property in Bankers Hill — said he liked the architectural design of the house.

“The biggest thing is the substandard road,” Nakshab said. “This is not the gentleman’s problem; it’s the city’s problem. His project is above par.”

Mat Wahlstrom, another board member, encouraged the developer to change the entrance to the property to Presidio Drive, where there is right of way. But the developer said that changing architectural plans would cause the house to have a higher profile and it would end up towering over the neighborhood.

Maya Rosas said she respected the public’s concern about public safety, but reminded everyone that it isn’t the applicant’s responsibility.

“I have faith this driveway will be better than any other one on this street,” she said.

The Uptown Planners then voted 9-5-2 to approve the new tentative map. Then they voted unanimously on a motion to recommend that the city look into the safety issues along Cosoy Way, even considering making it a one-way street.

Jones House relocation

As the meeting approached its third hour, the Uptown Planners swiftly voted unanimously to support a Site Development Permit for the relocation of the historic Henry B. Jones House from 4040 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest to 4114 Ibis St. in Mission Hills. The Hillcrest lot, located west of Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, will be developed as a cancer treatment center.

Condos for Hillcrest

The Uptown Planners voted 13-1-1 to approve a tentative map for the creation of 10 residential condominium units within two structures located at 3642 and 3650 Seventh Ave. in Hillcrest. Maggie Rolland, principal at M Roland Associates, said the work had already begun since this is a condo conversion project. The buildings are north of the Coral Tree Plaza apartments.

Pharmacy for Bankers Hill

CVS Pharmacy officials told Uptown Planners that they are converting a building at 850 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill into the area’s newest pharmacy and expect to open in May 2018. They said they would return to Uptown Planners in the near future to ask for a Type 21 ABC license to sell beer, wine and liquor. The 10,200-square-foot building will have 28 off-street parking spaces in addition to metered parking along nearby streets. Sharp Rees-Steely Downtown medical clinic is nearby.

—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.

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