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Familiar Conflicts Surround Linda Vista Trolley Development Plans

Photo by Andrew Bowen / KPBS

Above: Cars sit in the parking lot for A-1 Self Storage near the site of a future trolley stop in Linda Vista, April 19, 2017.

San Diego planners are crafting a vision for the development of land alongside future trolley stops in Linda Vista. Nearby residents are wary of taller buildings with higher-density housing.

The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday heard a report on development plans for a strip of land adjacent to the future trolley extension that is crucial to the city's goals of housing affordability and smart growth.

The Morena Corridor Specific Plan covers about 300 acres of land in Linda Vista and Clairemont, just east of Interstate-5 between Friars Road and Clairemont Drive. It includes two future trolley stops that are part of the planned blue line extension from Old Town to University City.

City planners are eager to maximize ridership along the trolley line by enticing developers to build high-density housing adjacent to the transit stops. Their plans include zoning for a walkable, mixed-use "community village," light manufacturing and employment. They also foresee protected bike lanes and a slight re-orienting of the streets to make the area more easily navigable.

Most of the public testimony at the Planning Commission presentation was in favor of the plans. Speakers noted that the city has already established goals of increasing the housing supply to improve affordability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more people to bike, walk and ride public transit. But some residents of Linda Vista are wary of taller buildings obstructing views of the coast, and of potential traffic congestion brought on by high-density housing.

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Morena Corridor Specific Plan

Morena Corridor Specific Plan

The San Diego Planning Department outlines its land use vision for an area surrounding a future trolley stop in Linda Vista.

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"We recognize the housing shortage that is going on in San Diego," said Howard Wayne, a member of the volunteer Linda Vista Planning Group and chair of the committee that is consulting city planners on the project. "We want to play our fair share in solving it — but only our fair share, and not that all the housing be placed along this area."

Three years ago, city officials had put forward similar plans for increasing density in Bay Park adjacent to the trolley stop in the north end of the project. Angry residents mobilized against the plans and eventually convinced the city to scale back its development ambitions.

There were echoes of that previous fight in comments from some of the seven-member Planning Commission, which is appointed by the mayor, confirmed by the City Council and tasked with approving some development permits and advising the council on land use issues.

Vicki Granowitz, who was appointed to the commission earlier this month and who recently oversaw an update to the growth plans for North Park, said the city should not back away from its vision of smart growth in the face of opposition.

"We need to make this area work, and my concern is if we capitulate to people who are afraid of density, that it won't stop," she said. "We need to be brave."

Commissioner James Whalen suggested the density in the area should be even higher than what city planners were proposing, and that San Diego risks losing out on federal and state dollars for mass transit if it does not maximize ridership by building near transit stops.

"I'm very concerned that we'll never get another grant like SANDAG got for the trolley line if we don't take advantage of what the opportunities present to us," he said, referring to the $1 billion federal grant given to the San Diego Association of Governments to build the mid-coast trolley.

Planning Commission Chair Stephen Haase said while he understood residents' concerns, San Diego has already committed to building dense housing near public transit, and the city had to make good use of the money it is spending on the new trolley service.

"That is a huge investment that we have made," he said. "This is not 'build the housing first and the trolley will come later.' The trolley's going to be there. And what we decide with this plan is going to be there for 100 years."

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