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Proposal To Nix 30-Foot Height Limit In Midway District Advances

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.

A proposal to lift San Diego's coastal height limit in the Midway neighborhood took a key step Wednesday toward being on the November 2020 ballot.

The proposal, sponsored by City Councilmembers Jen Campbell and Chris Cate, would allow new buildings taller than 30 feet in the neighborhood, which has long been plagued by blight.

"We in San Diego are very familiar with this area and know that it desperately needs revitalization," said Campbell, whose district includes Midway. "It can become an area not only for a new sports or entertainment arena, but also a vibrant transportation, residential, commercial, recreational and employment area."

Cate added that the city is currently seeking proposals to redevelop the 48-acre city-owned property that includes Pechanga Arena (formally known as the San Diego Sports Arena), and that more flexibility on height would result in better proposals. The Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group voted unanimously last month to support the proposal.

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

Reported by Andrew Bowen

Challenging the 30-foot coastal height limit has been a third rail of San Diego politics. It was enacted by referendum in 1972 and covers all of the city's neighborhoods west of Interstate 5, excluding downtown and properties owned by the state or federal governments. The height limit was pitched as a way to protect coastal views and prevent Miami-style skyscrapers along the city's coastline.

But many Midway residents and business owners argue their neighborhood has no views of the coastline and should never have been grouped with truly coastal neighborhoods such as La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Point Loma.

The City Council Rules Committee voted 4-1 to direct the City Attorney's Office to prepare the ballot measure's language and legal analysis. The measure is expected to receive a second committee vote next month, followed by a vote from the full council to officially place it on the ballot. It would need a majority of all San Diego voters to become law.

RELATED: NAVWAR Redevelopment Could Revitalize Midway District

Councilmember Barbara Bry, who has shown skepticism of new development in her campaign for San Diego mayor, cast the only vote against the measure, saying it was not urgent enough for the city to spend money to put it on the ballot. Other opponents said during public comment that exempting the Midway District from the coastal height limit would be a slippery slope toward changing it in other neighborhoods.

Campbell said zoning in the Midway District still limits building heights to between 30 and 100 feet, depending on the parcel of land, and that the ballot measure would not change that.

The San Diego City Council approved an update to the Midway Community Plan in 2018, adding the capacity for some 10,000 new homes. Supporters of lifting the height limit said many of those homes are unlikely to get built as long as the 30-foot height limit is in place.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

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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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