City Council Moves to Place Neighborhood Height Limit Exemption Up for Fall Vote
By Lou Hirsh CoStar News
July 21, 2020 | 05:35 P.M.
San Diego City Council plans to let voters decide on a measure that would remove a 30-foot height limit in a prominent but aging part of the city, potentially clearing the way for significant new commercial development around the San Diego Sports Arena.
City Council voted 7-2 to place a measure on the citywide ballot Nov. 3, that would exempt the Midway District from the height limit currently in place for most neighborhoods in that part of San Diego, about six miles north of the city’s downtown.
Proponents at a Tuesday meeting said the change is needed to provide feasible density for future projects aimed at reviving the city-owned, 54-year-old sports facility and its surrounding 100 acres, with elements including long-sought affordable housing and civic spaces.
“The Midway community has been asking for this change for several years,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who represents the neighborhood and co-sponsored the ballot measure proposal with Councilman Chris Cate. “They need to build up, not out, to achieve the desired green space.”
The move comes as the city is reviewing two proposals, submitted by nationwide developers Toll Brothers and Brookfield Properties, that seek to renovate the arena and replace similarly aging nearby strip centers and industrial buildings with new components including apartments, hotels, offices, parks, retail, dining and entertainment spaces.
Submitted concepts indicate that both proposals, each entailing more than $1 billion in phased development over the next decade, include designs in which commercial structures have a maximum height around the same height as the sports arena, which stands at 77 feet. City officials are expected to choose one of the concepts before year’s end. It would be followed by negotiations on specific elements and designs, before procurement of entitlements.
Local groups supporting the proposed ballot measure during Tuesday’s meeting included the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown San Diego Partnership business advocacy group.
Some residents speaking against the measure said it would lead to other neighborhoods seeking similar exemptions from the height limit that could lead to projects that worsen problems including traffic congestion.
The move to place the measure on the fall ballot was opposed by council President Georgette Gomez and Councilwoman Barbara Bry. Gomez said the height limit exemption should be pursued at the polls later by whichever developer is chosen for the sports arena redevelopment, rather than by city officials.
Representatives of Toll Brothers and Brookfield Properties have previously said they would support passage of a public ballot measure this fall.
Cate said removing the height limit around the sports arena would help make redevelopment compatible with a nearby mixed-use project being planned by the U.S. Navy at its aging technology research complex near Interstate 5.
The Navy is in talks with regional planners to redevelop the research complex with elements including offices, retail and a regional transportation center that could help ease access to the nearby San Diego International Airport.
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