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With Redevelopment On The Way, Midway District Eyes Change To Height Limit

The Pechanga Arena in the Midway District is seen behind a chain link fence, ...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: The Pechanga Arena in the Midway District is seen behind a chain link fence, Feb. 19, 2020.

As a series of major revitalization projects slated for the Midway District move closer to reality, residents and property owners are lobbying for a ballot measure to increase the 30-foot height limit for buildings in the neighborhood.

In response to their calls, City Councilwoman Jen Campbell on Thursday issued a memo calling for a measure that would repeal the height limit for the neighborhood altogether.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Campbell, who co-signed the memo with Councilman Chris Cate, said removing the height limit would allow the city to "take full advantage of the vision of the current community plan," which calls for pedestrian- and transit-oriented development with more parkland and open space.

Campbell and Cate's proposal comes as the city is seeking ideas for how to redevelop the 48-acre Pechanga Arena and its surrounding parking lot. The city released a request for proposals, which will close on June 4.

At the same time, the Navy is considering redevelopment of the 70.5-acre Naval Information Warfare System Command headquarters. The property is not subject to the 30-foot height limit, which was approved by voters in 1972, because it is owned by the federal government.

RELATED: NAVWAR Redevelopment Could Revitalize Midway District

Dike Anyiwo, a Midway resident for five years and a member of the neighborhood's volunteer planning group, said he hopes those two projects would lead to the revitalization of a neighborhood long plagued by blight.

"I would not consider this a very walkable neighborhood, I would not consider this a sort of aesthetically pleasing neighborhood," he said. "I think this is sort of San Diego's forgotten armpit."

The City Council approved an update to the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan in September 2018, adding capacity for roughly 10,000 new homes beyond those that exist today. While most of Midway has stayed the same since then, two new developments comprising nearly 700 new apartments are underway on the neighborhood's southern edge. Both are on the site of a former post office, as is a proposal to convert that building into office space.

There was brief consideration in 2018 of asking voters to amend the height limit in Midway. Members of the city's planning commission and city council suggested it was not a coastal neighborhood and had no ocean views that could be obstructed by taller buildings. But no concrete proposal ever made it to the council for consideration.

Cathy Kenton, a property owner in Midway and chair of the neighborhood planning group, said she was thrilled at the prospect of a ballot measure to raise the height limit and would ask the planning group to officially weigh in on the proposal next month. Redevelopment in Midway would be less than ideal, she said, if it were restricted to 30 feet.

RELATED: In Search Of Makeover, Midway District Says ‘Yes’ To New Housing

"It's going to be pretty dense, pretty tight, and it's going to be pretty flat horizontally," Kenton said. "So if we were able to go up higher with redevelopment, then we would be able to add more parks, add more open space and make a more interesting and enjoyable living area."

Many in San Diego consider the coastal height limit sacrosanct. When Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced plans to abolish height limits across the city in areas near public transit stops, he notably left the coastal zone out of the discussion.

But Midway is distinct from neighborhoods like Point Loma, Pacific Beach or La Jolla in that not many people live there — and fewer residents could mean less opposition to change.

As one of the few people who does live in Midway, Anyiwo said he is excited about the neighborhood's "potential energy." Midway should be doing its part to relieve the city's housing shortage, he said.

"We have in some ways I think actually a civic duty to avail ourselves of as many different opportunities and options as possible," he said.

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Aired: February 28, 2020 | Transcript

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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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