December 14 – KPBS – Andrew Bowen reports – The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to recommend approval of a redevelopment plan for land near a future trolley station at Balboa Avenue between Clairemont and Pacific Beach.
The Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan would rezone a portion of the land near the station to permit up to 3,500 new apartments and condos beyond what current zoning allows. Planning commissioners were skeptical that number could ever be reached, however, because all the upzoned land would be subject to San Diego’s 30-foot coastal height limit.
“I think we’re kidding ourselves that 30 feet is going to accommodate 109 units per acre,” said Commissioner Jim Whalen, referring to part of the plan’s density limits. The 30-foot limit was approved by city voters in 1972 and can only be amended by another public vote.
The Balboa Avenue plan is tied to the roughly $2 billion Mid-Coast Trolley project to extend the Blue Line from Old Town to University City. City planners have also prepared a transit-oriented development plan for the future trolley station at Tecolote Road, and are incorporating additional land use updates near Balboa Avenue and Clairemont Drive as part of a comprehensive update to the Clairemont Mesa Community Plan.
Despite its added density, the Balboa Avenue plan has attracted little opposition over its land use component compared to the plans for the trolley stations to the south. Many nearby homeowners have voiced angry protests against those plans, saying the new buildings would increase traffic and block their private coastal views.
San Diego’s General Plan and Climate Action Plan require the city to focus new development near public transit hubs to allow more people to live and work within walking distance of bus and trolley lines and reduce the city’s dependence on cars.
Several public speakers at Thursday’s meeting told the Planning Commission they were fine with the plan’s added density, but that the street design failed to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle access to the trolley. The “community village” in the plan would be separated from the trolley station by the Interstate-5 freeway.
“The region has invested billions in the mid-coast trolley station extension, and it would be a shame if this project failed to meet or provide the necessary multi-modal connections to encourage people to take transit, bike and walk,” said Matthew Vasilakis, an organizer with the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign.
Public speakers and planning commissioners encouraged city staffers to create more robust plans for a pedestrian-bicycle bridge over the freeway to connect new residents to the trolley and to explore options to fund that bridge’s design and construction.
The Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan is expected to go before the City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee early next year, followed by a final vote at the full City Council.
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