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Posted: June 3rd, 2016 | Columns, Communities, Featured | 1 Comment

New projects will add vitality to Uptown

(Editor’s note: This is part of a series of architectural commentaries and critiques that run in San Diego Uptown News every other issue. The opinions are those of the author.)

By Eric Domeier

New projects are springing out of the ground in Uptown. In the ever-pressing forward momentum of growth and renewal, these projects promise increased vitality and diversity to our neighborhood.


Possibly the most exciting development is the Iowa Street Senior Housing project near the corner of University Avenue in North Park. As the community rises in affluence, many local residents are getting priced out of the market. Iowa Street Senior Housing pushes back on this trend by providing quality housing for seniors on the margins.

Iowa Street Senior Housing project rises near the northeast corner of University Avenue and Iowa Street in North Park. (Photo by Ken Williams)

Iowa Street Senior Housing project rises near the northeast corner of University Avenue and Iowa Street in North Park. (Photo by Ken Williams)

Brought to us by San Diego Interfaith Housing Foundation, Iowa Street will offer one- and two-bedroom apartments to the 55-and-older set. With monthly rents ranging between $430 and $1,000, there will be 100 one-bedroom and 20 two-bedroom units available. Acceptance of tenancy is available to those with an income between $18,000 and $36,000 annual.

Parking is provided on the ground level with four stories of units above. The ground floor will also have 3,800 square feet of commercial/retail available to lease. Let’s hope for a cafeteria-style restaurant to offset the hip-clique cliché that is becoming North Park. And if nothing else, it will be a pleasure to have 120 more seniors in our neighborhood to mellow the flavor of our community.

Iowa Street is under construction and should be done by Christmas.


Churning parking lots into residences is the best kind of urban renewal. The latest parking lot conversion is happening on 31st Street between University Avenue and North Park Way.

Habitat on 31st will do its part to offset the housing shortage in Uptown. (Courtesy of Bejan Arfaa)

Habitat on 31st will do its part to offset the housing shortage in Uptown. (Courtesy of Bejan Arfaa)

Elusive architect Bejan Arfaa brings us Habitat on 31st, a 35-unit apartment complex, offering 11 studios and 24 one-bedroom apartments. Unit sizes will range between a modest 375 square feet up to a spacious 1,100 square feet.

The project has only recently broken ground. As I sit here writing this article, concrete is being pumped into the foundations. Both designer and builder, Arfaa expects completion of the project in the summer of 2017.


My heart raced when I saw the razing of the Chevron on University Avenue near Interstate 805. What could it be? A micro high-rise? A new office project? Mass transit station? Alas, it will be a new convenience store. Details are not readily available at this time. But city permits indicate that the owner, Chevron, has been granted a permit “to demolish existing building, remodel fueling stations and construct new store for an existing gas station.”

Considering that the original gas station has been scraped off the lot, and all the paving with it, it would indicate that new foundations are probably going in for a bigger store with more pumps. Not terribly exciting, but we can at least be glad that the very convenient station will be restored and invigorated.


Last fall, an entire city block along El Cajon Boulevard was converted from dilapidated commercial buildings into a weedy dirt lot. While this particular version of conversion took about six months for full maturation of random and happenstance plant species to occur, the approval process for an actual building has been grinding away for at least eight years.

At the helm of this project is HG Fenton, which seeks to deliver 165 units of apartments. One- and two-bedroom units will be complemented by commercial lease space. Fourteen of the residential units will be “affordable.”

One image of the project exists that illustrates a cheery, California façade with three-story signage fit for the ever-boastful West LA. Whether billboard or building, this project does seem to be shaping up as the revitalization that El Cajon Boulevard needs.

Interestingly, the project was granted a site development permit in January 2009. Such approvals are typically tied to certain conditions and features of the project. But more recently the project was submitted to a Substantial Conformance Review (SCR), a process that validates whether a project is conforming to the conditions of approval.

In the city comments section it is stated, “This is a very tricky SCR. The SCR is against all previous entitlements.” There is no indication in city documents of the non-conforming aspects of the project. Both the city and the representative of HG Fenton declined to comment.

And given the near decade that this project has been underway, it is no surprise that a developer would adjust their project goals to accommodate market changes. But woe is the developer that tries to progressively improve this city. The machine of bureaucracy turns dreams to pulp and pulp to paper. Upon which the city finds another creative way to write “No” in one thousand words or less.

The business of land development is a thankless task in regulation-rich California. Even in this era where we have wisely agreed to increased density over urban sprawl, headwinds are the only winds for progressive growth. Nonetheless, projects continue to break ground that will revitalize and recycle our urban community. And the captains of those efforts should be applauded for staying the course.

—Eric Domeier lives in North Park and practices architecture from his Grim Avenue office. Visit his website at or call him at 619-531-0010.

One Comments

  1. […] in North Park, construction at the 35-unit residential project Habitat at 31st is coming along (rendering from Uptown […]

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