Hipster zone planned for North Park

Community plans for Golden Hill and South Park also laid out

Mid-city residents packed city-council chambers on Tuesday afternoon (October 25) as councilmembers convened to consider long-awaited updates to community plans for North Park and Golden Hill.

The most contentious discussion centered around the North Park plan, where zoning around transit corridors and in portions of the space between University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard would be increased from a current density of 75 to 109 units per acre to allow for as many as 145 units per acre to be built. The total number of units for the area, currently around 25,000, would rise from a projected 34,295 as laid out in the plan's last 1988 update to 36,570 with the new update.

Included in the update are six potential historic districts, ranging from a single block to several square blocks in size. These include the core of the business district centered around 30th Street and University, where the neighborhood's landmark sign is located.

The plan also adds a new zone unique to North Park, recognized as San Diego's hipster mecca: a designation for "artisan beverage and food producers," which opponents feared would introduce more alcohol establishments to what they described as an already oversaturated area.

About 50 speakers signed up to comment before the council took up the plan, with a nearly even split between those who were in favor and opposed to its passage.

"North Park just doesn't have the infrastructure to support 25,000 new residents," opined local resident Judith Aboud. "Think of the water alone. Plus, the only increase in transit that's being planned for the area is more buses."

Jarvis Ross, with the preservation group Save Our Heritage Organisation, echoed Aboud's concerns.

"We keep talking about population growth here, but earlier we were talking about water," said Ross, referring to an earlier council discussion about water reclamation as a means of offsetting ongoing shortages. "The price of water keeps going up, and yet we think we can build more housing that's affordable."

Added Randi Vita, who said she represented 50 other residents in the increased density zones: "[The plan] selectively incentivizes developers to build specifically where the most affordable housing is. It literally drew boxes around the most affordable apartments in North Park and asked that this is where new development would be placed.... We don't need to incentivize developers to build more expensive housing — that's already being done. We have a surplus of expensive housing."

Vernita Gutierrez, meanwhile, worried about the loss of the "Huffman six-pack" style apartments.

"I'm extremely concerned with the potential for displacement of low-income residents and community members of color," testified Gutierrez. "Current residents who plan to benefit the most from improvements are the ones who would be displaced. The irony of displacement along transit lines is that lower-income households comprise public transit's core ridership, and they are far more likely to be without a car. More affluent people moving in are far less likely to have to use public transit or to be daily riders."

Other residents of University Heights groused about their community being split between the North Park and Uptown planning districts and pleaded for a re-mapping that would move University Heights out of North Park.

Others, though, said the plan's adoption was a move in the right direction.

"We wanted to protect our intact single-family areas, create historic districts, find ways to increase affordable housing, try to limit gentrification, and put density on transportation corridors," said North Park Planning Committee chair Vicki Granowitz, who was part of a years-long effort to develop the plan update. "We wanted a vibrant, safe, bike-and-pedestrian-oriented community that provided work opportunities for the rainbow of people who live in North Park. While this plan is not perfect, it's full of progressive polices and a creative vision for the future."

Daniel Fitzgerald, one of several developers testifying in favor of the increased housing density, called himself "a huge housing advocate" but said that "the products that developers are not allowed to build are what's creating the housing crisis."

"Affordable and mixed-income housing, supportive housing, micro-units, these are products our city can't develop because we don't have the density," Fitzgerald continued, implying that allowing builders to squeeze extra units onto a site would incentivize them to build smaller, more affordable residences.

Council president pro tem Marti Emerald echoed those arguing for approval. "This is just the first step, and it's a baby step...but it's a start, and I think that's commendable."

The update proposal passed unanimously after nearly two hours of discussion, at which point the group moved on to the Golden Hill plan, which also includes the neighborhood of South Park. Two potential historic districts, one immediately east of Interstate 5 and another at the southeastern corner of Balboa Park, were identified.

Opposition to the proposal in Golden Hill was considerably subdued as compared to the North Park debate, largely due to the fact there was no call for large increases in housing density.

Some areas of the plan for the neighborhood actually called for lower density, an inclusion bemoaned by a developer who'd planned to build 35 500-square-foot apartments on a 1/3-acre parcel, but was being told he might have to downsize his plan and instead build 21 units of 1200 square feet each. Upon arguing that these units would be costlier than the ones originally targeted to house service workers in and around the downtown area, the council agreed to search for a way to grant a "density bonus" exemption before approving the Golden Hill update with a second unanimous vote.

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