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Developers, MTS Aim For Denser Affordable Housing At Trolley Stop

Two cars are seen parked at the Palm Avenue trolley station as a trolley pass...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Two cars are seen parked at the Palm Avenue trolley station as a trolley passes by in the background, July 29, 2020.

A team of developers seeking to build low- and middle-income housing at a South Bay trolley station is looking to significantly increase the project's size, as the Metropolitan Transit System seeks to maximize the use of its real estate.

MTS officials have been in talks with the developers for the past year over what to build at the Palm Avenue station on the Blue Line trolley. The roughly 4-acre parcel of land to the east of the station is owned by MTS and is currently a surface parking lot that is usually mostly empty.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The team of National Core, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, and Malick Infill, a for-profit firm that specializes in transit-oriented development, is now seeking to build up to 408 apartments at the site. That's up from the 250 homes the team proposed last year.

The initial proposal comprised 150 homes that are affordable for low-income households, making between 30% and 60% of the county's median income, and 100 homes that are affordable for middle-income households making between 81% and 150% of the median income. The new proposal would feature 324 low-income units and 84 moderate-income units.

Photo credit: Metropolitan Transit System

Two renderings show both the old and new design concepts for affordable housing at the Palm Avenue trolley station.

San Diego City Council President and MTS board member Georgette Gomez said the larger project is in line with an update to the MTS real estate policy that she helped craft when she chaired the agency's board in 2018.

"This is exactly what we had in mind in terms of utilizing the spaces a bit more that would really provide an opportunity to address the housing crisis," Gomez said. "So this is very exciting to me."

The increase in the project's size came after some MTS board members last year expressed disappointment that another trolley-adjacent housing development — at the Grantville station on the Green Line — did not maximize the site's allowable density. Andrew Malick, founder of Malick Infill, told board members Thursday the development team appreciated the transit agency's desire to get more from its land.

"We are shifting from a suburban paradigm to an urban paradigm when we build places more densely," Malick said. "Fortunately we have many precedents around the world to look at for what makes a successful, livable, urban type place."

Reported by Andrew Bowen , Video by Andi Dukleth

Malick added that recent changes to state and local laws would mean the project could be streamlined without having to undergo a lengthy environmental review. One such law is AB 1763, passed last year, which allows developers to build taller and denser housing when it is near transit and designated as affordable.

While the new proposal would allow for up to 408 apartments, Malick said the final number constructed could depend on the ability of the developers to obtain financing.

In addition to the added housing, the new design concept also includes a playground, a jogging track, retail space, a child care center and 224 shared parking spaces. While the original proposal included more parking, City Councilmember Vivian Moreno, who represents the area, said adding more housing was more important than preserving parking.

"This is actually where I park my car when I take the trolley, and I agree there isn't a lot of people parking in this area," Moreno said. "I think we all could agree that the highest and best use of land right next to a trolley stop is not a 4-acre parking lot."

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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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