What North Park's future will look like

"Our plan is for the millennials. If they can avoid having a car, they do."

The North Park Planning Committee on Tuesday (September 6) approved the area's draft community plan update — the roadmap for long-term growth and preservation for a neighborhood deemed one of America's hippest hipster neighborhoods in 2012 by Forbes.

More than 100 people attended the long and sometimes contentious meeting that resulted in a four-page motion that tried to clearly define community concerns with the plan.

Ten of the provisions involved making sure historic places are recognized and protected, three more detailed concerns over meeting Climate Action Plan goals, two additional provisions addressed mobility concerns, and the motion has two recommendations for how development proceeds.

None of the people interviewed seemed happy with the outcome, which took more than eight years to draft, revise, and make compromises on.

"No plan is perfect, but this plan was worked on extensively with the citizenry," committee chairwoman Vicki Granowitz said. "There's a lot to like here."

The community of 45,728 is expected to grow to 70,000 in the next 20 years, according to city documents. The neighborhood is trying to find ways to deal with the predicted growth — growth that some of the residents hope to limit.

"My board is more visionary — we need to do things for millennials to make things multimodal and better suited to the next generation," Granowitz said. "But we also want to preserve the character of our unique neighborhood."

The plan puts most of the development areas in places where multifamily buildings already exist, she said. El Cajon Boulevard, the north part of 30th Street, along Park Boulevard and University Avenue, and a little bit between Howard and Lincoln avenues are the targeted development areas.

"We protected the bungalow courts and, at the same time, encouraged new, affordable housing," Granowitz said, noting that one of the conditions allows for new studios and single-room occupancy buildings. The plan pushes for better mass transit and more ways of getting around besides cars.

"Our plan is for the millennials. If they can avoid having a car, they do," she said. "It's a generational shift between aging baby boomers and millennials."

University Heights Community Association president Bernie Horan, who co-owns two Twiggs Bakery & Coffeehouses in North Park, said that University Heights residents aren't happy about several things — starting with still being politically split with part of the area in the North Park group and the other part in the Uptown planning group.

"We agree with a lot of the plan," he said. "Our concern revolves around the church property on Park [Boulevard], where they changed it from up to 29 housing units per acre to up to 109 per acre. It's a 4-acre property abutting Lusti Motors, so it may well be part of an enormous surge in development at the entrance to University Heights, across from the school property that's also going to be developed. We want to see development get smaller as you go north from El Cajon Boulevard....

"We agree that development should be on Park and on transit corridors, but the city needs to do more infrastructure there," he added.

While the plan includes significant development in the transit corridors, it lacks the creation of parks and green space in the already-dense neighborhood, said Lynn Elliott of the North Park Community Association.

"They want more density when we still don't have the infrastructure for the density we already have," Elliott said. "We need to make sure there's parking for any new development — we are already a parking-impacted area. There are many of us who want the trolley to come down University — that's true and efficient mass transit."

She said that the 805 freeway exit at North Park Way is a perfect example of infrastructure failing with the current population.

"North Park Way is a mess. Thirtieth and Upas is a mess," Elliott said. "I know that we're trying, but we have bugs that need to be worked out before we add more people and more development."

Elliott questioned whether truly affordable housing will result from giving developers more latitude.

"It will be expensive — that's why developers want to build here, they get top dollar — and it will crowd our neighborhoods."

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