September 17, 2018 – San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick reports – Hundreds of acres surrounding San Diego’s aging sports arena would slowly be transformed into dense housing, modern commercial projects, 30 acres of parks and a bay-to-bay trail under a plan the City Council approved on Monday.
The plan is to make the community more resident-friendly and less industrial by chopping up its oversized blocks with new, smaller streets featuring bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly plazas.
The population of the area, known as the Midway District, would rise from 4,600 to 27,000 because land with large commercial projects would be re-zoned for housing, spiking the number of units from just under 2,000 to more than 11,000.
The 52-year-old arena could remain as it is, be replaced by mixed-use development or be replaced by a more modern arena, although any new structure higher than 30 feet would require voter approval in a referendum.
While the new plan would increase traffic in the area, it would only be about 1 percent more congested than under a 1991 development blueprint for the area that is being replaced by the plan approved on Monday, officials said. That’s primarily because many of the area’s commercial projects bring more regional traffic into the area than the housing that would replace them under the new blueprint, which is called a community plan update.
Congestion would also be eased by dozens of road upgrades, including new freeway onramps and greater use by residents of the nearby Old Town Trolley station and some rapid bus routes.
In addition, the plan includes a bay-to-bay trail for bicyclists and pedestrians, which would connect San Diego Bay at Laurel Street to Mission Bay at the San Diego River and Interstate 8.
“This will set the stage for the type of development we want to see in the Midway area, like more housing and jobs for residents and a revitalized entertainment district that all San Diegans can enjoy,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a news release. “We’re doubling down on our strategy of focusing new development around transit and job centers as we rebuild our city for the future.”
Critics said the plan should include more subsidized housing for low-income residents and should do more to help San Diego achieve its climate action goals of having more people commute by mass transit, biking and walking.
Some council members said those criticisms have merit, but the council still approved the plan unanimously after a two-hour public hearing at City Hall.
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf of Bay Ho, whose district includes the 1,324 acres affected by the plan, said it would dramatically upgrade the character and ambience of the area.
“It’s been an embarrassment because it’s been so blighted,” she said. “With this new plan, we can say goodbye to the red light district of yesteryear and welcome in a new era of better transportation, more housing options, park and recreation facilities and a fantastic balance of mixed-use properties.”
The plan was also praised by several private property owners in the area, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Unified Port District and leaders from nearby U.S. Navy facilities.
“In addition to expanding housing opportunities with shorter commutes for Navy personnel throughout the San Diego area, this plan’s timing couldn’t be better,” said Capt. Brien Dickson, commanding officer of Navy Base Point Loma.
Navy officials plan to redevelop their Old Town complex and SPAWAR, two large properties along Pacific Highway in the Midway District, which is bordered by San Diego International Airport, Interstate 5, Interstate 8, Laurel Street and the eastern edge of Point Loma.
“The Navy will strive to ensure our land use and development stays consistent with this plan and compatible with the surrounding community development as it continues to improve,” Dicksen told the council.
Some critics said the zoning in the plan should require developers to make a significant portion of the housing units, perhaps 20 percent, subsidized for residents who meet income restrictions.
Mike Hansen, the city’s planning director, said officials prefer to make such requirements citywide instead of neighborhood by neighborhood.
He said an “inclusionary” housing policy with such rules is in the works and that it would apply to the Midway District and all other parts of the city.
“We feel that the best way to address that issue is through citywide policy,” Hansen said. “Although we share your goal, we feel that adding it to one community planning area is not the right solution.”
On the climate action plan, Sophie Wolfram of Climate Action Campaign said it was frustrating that none of the 10 community plan updates adopted in recent years meet the city’s climate goals.
Councilman Chris Ward agreed, criticizing the plan for its projection that 89 percent of commutes would remain by automobile under the plan. That’s far more than the climate action plan, which calls for automobile commutes to drop below 80 percent by 2020 and to 50 percent by 2035.
“I’m not sure what the disconnect is here,” he said.
Alyssa Muto, the city’s deputy director of environment and mobility planning, said the city would come closer to meeting the goals in upcoming community plans for more transit-friendly areas, such as Mission Valley.
Community leaders, including the Midway Community Planning Group, have spent 11 years working on the plan that was approved on Monday.
“This is an exciting day for our community,” said Cathy Kenton, chair of the planning group. “Your action today signals the start of a new beginning for Midway.”
Kenton said she’s pleased the plan includes upgrades to about 20 intersections and new freeway onramps. They would include a connector from I-5 south to I-8 west, from I-8 east to I-5 north and from Barnett Avenue to I-5 north.
Kenton said those ramps would alleviate congestion because it would eliminate the need to take surface streets to make those connections.
The changes envisioned in the plan would likely happen gradually over the next two decades, but officials said they could accelerate if more than 100 city-owned acres around the arena – branded as the Valley View Casino Center — get redeveloped quickly and serve as a catalyst to other projects.
Most of the leases for the city-owned land expire in 2020, and city officials have declined to discuss renewals so that ambitious redevelopment of the area can move forward quickly and smoothly.
A developer is also proposing an upscale office complex on the former site of the defunct postal complex on Midway Drive, which could be a catalyst.
City officials say the area is ripe for development because of its central location between downtown, the airport, Mission Bay Park and the city’s beach communities.
The Midway District also has strong freeway access and proximity to mass transit and includes the site of a transportation hub serving the airport that is being planned by the San Diego Association of Governments.
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