Board votes to create unprecedented level of community review
By Hutton Marshall | SDUN Editor
The Uptown Community Plan Update has been in the works for several years now. Since 2008, the Uptown communities have deliberated on issues regarding land use and city planning that will shape growth in the area for decades to come.
Building height, especially in Hillcrest, has been a consistently contentious issue throughout the process. The last three Uptown Planners meetings have seen Hillcrest residents and local business owners speak passionately about the future of the community to great lengths, and how potential height limits will affect this future. On their Feb. 4 meeting, without much debate, the Uptown Planning Board came to quick conclusion in its recommendation to city planners where on to draw the line for Hillcrest’s building height.
The Uptown Planners, a board of elected community members that gives input to city planning staff, voted unanimously to maintain the Interim Height Ordinance (IHO) in the Hillcrest area west of Highway 163. This means that a building can be 50 feet high ministerial, meaning that you can build up to 50 feet without requiring approval from the City or the community. Buildings in this area can go up to 65 feet, but this requires discretionary review by the Uptown Planners and city staff. This usually entails surveying the opinions of nearby residents and studying the building’s impact on the community.
In the portion of Hillcrest east of 163 to Park Avenue, where the Uptown Planners determined there to be more room for increased density, the board recommended creating a second level of discretionary review — “super discretionary” — that would allow building height to max out at 100 feet. Reaching this third tier would require more scrutiny by the community.
While the consensus is a sign of forward motion from the Uptown Planners, there is no guarantee their recommendation will be adopted by City staff into the plan update. Public Information Officer Lynda Pfeifer said that no planning area in San Diego has ever contained a second level of discretionary review, nor was she aware of any planning area outside of San Diego adopting a similar policy. Pfeifer couldn’t speculate whether this would be a realistic option for City planning staff, but she said it would be researched due to the controversial nature of building height in the Uptown community.
The recommendation’s motion, proposed by Hillcrest Town Council (HTC) representative Roy Dahl was seen as a compromise between the inclusive resident organization, the HTC, which last month voted to retain the IHO throughout Hillcrest, and the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), which proposed the “Hillcrest 2.0” plan, which would allow higher building heights with consideration of factors such as road width and relative density. Both groups responded with a statement through email following the meeting.
“The Hillcrest Business Association is thankful for the opportunity to have presented our position to the Uptown Planners and find their desire to reach a compromise on the IHO promising,” HBA Board President Johnathan Hale stated. “We’ll continue to monitor the process and look forward to creating an environment where business will thrive and residents will find more opportunities for housing through the development of mixed use structures.”
“This is not the height recommendation that the Hillcrest Town Council put forward,” HTC Chair Luke Terpstra stated. “We wanted to stay with the 65 foot height limit that we still have with the IHO (until the Plan Update is complete). The Uptown Planners unanimously chose to compromise by adding a discretionary level that goes up to 100 feet. In this discretionary level we can and will keep an eye on future plans.”
The Uptown Planners agreed that it would discuss specific recommendations for what would be required to meet the proposed two levels of discretionary review at a future meeting. This could include “shade studies,” residential input and reviewing potential environmental impacts.
The next Uptown Planners meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 4 at 6 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center.