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Downzone Uptown? San Diego Planning Commission Says ‘No’

Photo credit: SANDAG

A bicyclist is shown riding through Hillcrest in this undated photo.

The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday rejected a plan to decrease housing density in parts of Hillcrest, Bankers Hill and Mission Hills.

The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday rejected a plan to decrease housing density in parts of Hillcrest, Bankers Hill and Mission Hills, signaling an appetite for urbanizing the neighborhoods and adding more housing units.

Commissioners were voting on the Uptown community plan update, a lengthy document meant to guide the neighborhood's growth and development for decades. The latest version of that update included several cases of "downzoning" — decreasing the allowable housing density — resulting in a loss of about 1,900 potential housing units. City staff told the commission the downzoning was to protect historic buildings and to provide transitional zones between high- and low-density areas of Uptown.

Nearly all public testimony was dissatisfied with the final version of the plan update.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the community plan update, but without the density decreases. They also recommended eliminating height limits in the neighborhood to reduce the barriers to redeveloping blighted properties. The vote passes the plans on to the City Council, which has final say.

Several residents, developers and property owners told the commission that the only way to address San Diego's affordable housing crisis is to increase the housing supply — and that the only way to do that is to increase housing density.

"We would like to see more housing affordability, parks, improved infrastructure and transit," said Maya Rosas, a member of Uptown Planners and a land use consultant at Atlantis Group. "But decreasing development potential does not move Uptown closer to achieving those important goals."

Atlantis Group is representing a group of Hillcrest property owners calling itself the Uptown Gateway Council. The group presented the commission with their plan for a new mixed-use housing and commercial district that would require large increases in density and height limits in a section of Hillcrest.

Commissioners said they liked the Uptown Gateway Council's ideas in principle, and recommended city staffers give it more attention.

Another concern commissioners faced was a city-commissioned analysis that found Uptown's community plan update would fall short of the citywide transportation goals included in the Climate Action Plan. Those goals expect half of San Diegans living near public transit stops to commute to work without a car by 2035. Analyses of plan updates in North Park, Golden Hill and San Ysidro had similar findings.

On Wednesday, a City Council committee signaled it would like to see more assurances that the plan updates would be enough to meet the city's greenhouse gas reduction goals.

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