Historic Designation Scuttles Plan For Affordable Housing At Mission Hills Library Site
Speaker 1: 00:00 One of the locations mayor Kevin Faulkner has proposed to develop housing for the homeless is now likely off the table. San Diego's historic resources board voted last week to designate the mission Hills branch library as a historic resource. The mid century modern building located on West Washington street has been vacant since the new mission Hills Hillcrest Knox library opened last year. The old library is one of eight city owned properties. The mayor hope to make available to developers. It's estimated the site could accommodate 28 homes. Joining me is KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Welcome I'm Maureen, give us an idea of what the old mission Hills library looks like and the area where it's located. Speaker 2: 00:46 It's uh, probably the first, uh, building you might see as you're coming up West Washington street on the right. If you're heading East up the Hill from the [inaudible], um, it's not very big. It's one story, not particularly noticeable, uh, built in 1961. And, uh, it's in the front. It's got this sloped roof that hangs over the facade. Uh, it's a combination of smooth stucco and brick. Uh, the report, interestingly notes that there's minimal architectural detailing. So you might wonder why would minimal detailing make this building historic, but that was actually a pretty central characteristic of mid century modern architecture, that it was very minimalist. So that that's kind of what helped, uh, the board decided that this was in fact a historic resource. Speaker 1: 01:30 So the group that advocated for the historic designation is the mission Hills heritage group. What has the group said though about why the old library should be preserved? Speaker 2: 01:40 Well, the city's guidelines allow for different reasons for historic designation. In this case, it was decided that it does in fact, embody a distinctive characteristic or characteristics of a style type or period. Uh, it also helped that the building hadn't been modified to much often extensive, uh, renovations or modifications to a building, could sink an effort to, um, designated historic and, uh, the consultant who prepared the report on behalf of mission Hills heritage said that the historic resources board doesn't get many mid century modern buildings in front of them very often that this was a chance to preserve that styles, uh, impact or that history in San Diego. Speaker 1: 02:19 And what are the city's low cost housing advocates saying about this decision? Speaker 2: 02:24 Well, you really can't separate this historic designation from the backlash that occurred, uh, after, as you mentioned in your intro, a mayor, Kevin Faulkner put this property on a list of properties. He wanted to be redeveloped into permanent supportive housing that happened in may of last year. And the backlash was almost instant. Uh, there were a series of, uh, town halls in mission Hills. Um, and those made very clear that many in the neighborhood were not happy about this effort. Um, kind of the same story you see at time after time, a relatively wealthy, predominantly white neighborhood opposes affordable housing. Sometimes people say it's, you know, fear of crime or a distaste for the type of people who tend to be homeless, even though they're not homeless once they're living there. Um, and sometimes it's for other reasons like the height of a building or the shadows that will cast or the impacts on traffic. Um, we should note this site has limitations for building permanent supportive housing because it's very small, but the city really never got that far because this historic designation got in the way. And, you know, we should also note that mission Hills heritage strongly rejects this assertion, that it was motivated, uh, in any way by nimbyism, uh, or a desire to, you know, they say their desire to preserve the building was sincere and obviously a city staffers and, and the majority of the historic resources board agreed with them. Speaker 1: 03:44 What's the procedure for getting a designation as an historic resource from the city. Speaker 2: 03:50 Anyone can request a building, be designated as a historic resource. Usually you hire a consultant to do the research, figure out how the, that property fits into the city's history and how it can meet the city's criteria. You don't have to own the property. In fact, often the owner of a property objects to the historic designation because it limits what they can do with their own property. And it also lowers the value usually. Um, in fact, that happened in this very same meeting, uh, that, uh, you know, people, uh, somebody requested a building to be designated historic. The homeowners say, Hey, wait a minute. This is my property. And I don't want it, um, designated historic as historic, but, um, often the, the historic resources board disagrees and over the objections of the property owner, that's how it, how it plays out often. Speaker 1: 04:38 Does the city's historic resource board have the final word on what happens at that location? Speaker 2: 04:45 It is possible to appeal this decision to the city council and appeal can, and, and, uh, you can be granted and a decision can only be overturned under very narrow circumstances. So it's usually things like there was a factual error in the public record or that they made their decision based on, on, um, improv incorrect or incomplete information. So, um, overturning this designation is, is, uh, kind of a long shot. Speaker 1: 05:09 What happens to this mission Hills library building? Speaker 2: 05:13 No it's unclear the city still owns it. Uh, theoretically they could try and repurpose it, maybe, uh, turned it into, uh, you know, some people had said we need a senior center in mission Hills, um, you know, do something else with the property. Um, but you know, the city has a long list of unfunded infrastructure needs. And, uh, many of the critics of this designation, you know, said that the likeliest scenario going forward is that the city will not have the funds or not prioritize the funds to maintain this building and keep it in good condition. And as has happened with many other historic resourcing, it will simply start falling apart and, um, ultimately not get the kind of, um, dignity that, uh, you know, preservationists with. Like Speaker 1: 05:56 I've been speaking with KPBS measure reporter Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Maureen.