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Historic Designation Scuttles Plan For Affordable Housing At Mission Hills Library Site

The vacant Mission Hills Branch Library is seen here, Jan. 10, 2020.

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: The vacant Mission Hills Branch Library is seen here, Jan. 10, 2020.

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Mayor Kevin Faulconer had hoped to make the small piece of land available to developers to build housing for the homeless. But its designation as a historic resource prevents the ... Read more →

Aired: September 29, 2020 | Transcript

San Diego's Historic Resources Board voted Thursday to designate the vacant Mission Hills Branch Library as a historic resource, likely derailing plans by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to redevelop the site into housing for the formerly homeless.

The library has been vacant for more than a year and a half, after the new Mission Hills-Hillcrest Library opened in January 2019. Faulconer had included the 0.189-acre site in a list of eight city-owned properties he hoped to make available to developers for permanent supportive housing. The city estimated the site could accommodate 28 homes.

The historic designation blocks the city from demolishing or substantially altering the building.

The redevelopment plans met fierce resistance from some Mission Hills residents, who feared new affordable housing and low-income residents in their neighborhood would bring blight and crime. Some of those fears were based on false information that the city was seeking to build a homeless shelter rather than permanent housing.

The historic preservation group Mission Hills Heritage applied to have the property designated as historic for its representation of the mid-century modern style. City staffers agreed, noting the building's "angular massing, upswept shed roof with wide overhanging eaves, stucco and stacked brick cladding, and large aluminum framed windows."

Opponents of the designation said it was a thinly veiled attempt to keep lower-income residents out of the neighborhood.

"This is an attempt by Mission Hills Heritage to come up with a fabricated excuse as to why this is historic," said Mission Hills resident Clint Daniels. "You should not designate this as historic and prevent the future use of this site to house the most vulnerable amongst us."

Board member Todd Pitman said the building could still be turned into housing — or something else — through "adaptive reuse."

"Historic buildings aren't supposed to be stagnant for the rest of their lives," Pitman said. "They're supposed to be used, they're supposed to be a vibrant part of the community, and I would strongly hope that it would remain a strong part of the community."

Board chair David McCullough sought to limit the public testimony and board discussion to the question of whether the building met the city's criteria for historic preservation. But vice chair Tim Hutter, who cast the lone vote against the designation, said that was wrong.

"I would be in favor of changing our rules so that we could have a more express discussion about the fact that the decisions that we make here have impacts on people and on lives and on, in this case, the homeless or future housing or whatever it may be," Hutter said.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, a statement made by San Diego Historic Resources Board member Todd Pitman was mistakenly attributed to board Chairman David McCullough.

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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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