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City Council OKs Plans For 9,000 Additional Homes Near Future Trolley Stations

A conceptual rendering shows potential build-out of the Morena Corridor Speci...

Credit: City of San Diego

Above: A conceptual rendering shows potential build-out of the Morena Corridor Specific Plan near a future trolley station.

The San Diego City Council on Thursday unanimously approved two growth plans in areas near a future trolley line that call for more than 9,000 homes beyond what is currently allowed.

The Balboa Avenue Station Specific Plan, which covers the eastern edge of Pacific Beach, envisions high-density, mixed-use development in an area that is currently dominated by car dealerships and other related businesses.

The plan zones for more than 3,500 additional homes, but was the less controversial of the two because it did not increase building height limits.

The Morena Corridor Specific Plan, which covers a tract near the future Mid-Coast Trolley station at Tecolote Road, includes an additional 5,600 homes. More residents objected to that proposal because it would allow buildings of up to 100 feet in a portion of the plan area. Projects seeking to build up to that height limit would be subject to higher scrutiny through a community review process and public hearings.

City Councilman Chris Ward said the plan would help beautify the area, which is currently home to a large parking lot and big box retail stores.

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"It's going to allow us to have significant housing investments right next to the transit area, and I think that we are allowing some continuing community opportunity and engagement on a lot of the development and design specifics," Ward said.

Supporters of both plans said they are critical to helping the city meet its goal, under the Climate Action Plan, of increasing the share of residents who bike, walk or ride public transit to work. They also said the plans would help maximize ridership on the new trolley line, which is costing taxpayers more than $2 billion.

Councilwoman Jen Campbell, whose district includes both station plans, initially tried to lower the height limits in the Morena Corridor Specific Plan. But most of her colleagues rejected that idea — only Councilwoman Barbara Bry voted with her.

"It took years to get to this point, countless meetings between residents and city staff to bring this document forward," Campbell said. "And yet even at this final point, my constituents stand on the outside of the process as others decide the direction of their neighborhood for the next 30 years."

Campbell ultimately voted in favor of the taller height limits, but she was successful in amending the Morena plan in two ways.

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City staffers had recommended reducing Morena Boulevard from four lanes to three, allowing more parking and safer bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. But Campbell, who has faced pressure from constituents regarding traffic congestion, convinced her colleagues to keep the road at four lanes while still squeezing in bike lanes. However, the bike lanes along that corridor will have less of a buffer zone protecting cyclists from moving cars.

Campbell also added a requirement that 15 percent of new homes built under the plan be designated as affordable for moderate-income households, or those earning no more than the area median income. That translates to $86,300 for a family of four.

Thursday's action concluded a busy week for council members on ambitious housing issues: On Tuesday they approved an update to the city's inclusionary housing ordinance that requires developers to pay more for the construction of affordable housing. They also approved incentives to build affordable housing for moderate-income households.

On Wednesday, the council's Rules Committee advanced a bond measure proposed for the 2020 ballot that would raise $900 million for affordable housing. The measure needs support from at least six of the nine City Council members to make it on the ballot. Then it would need a two-thirds majority approval from voters to pass.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

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