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San Diego planners back away from proposed 10-story buildings along new Morena trolley line

Resident opposition has prompted San Diego officials to back away from plans to allow housing projects up to 10 stories tall near new trolley stations along Morena Boulevard.

City officials plan to unveil soon a revised proposal for major zoning changes in the area that will eliminate plans to raise the 45-foot height limit to 100 feet near the Tecolote trolley station and 65 feet near the Linda Vista/Morena station.

Despite the changes, the City Council could still choose to increase the height limits in those areas to help solve the city’s housing crisis and help meet the goals of the city’s ambitious and legally binding climate action plan.

A new trolley line connecting Old Town and the University of California San Diego, which is expected to begin operations in 2021, is considered a major opportunity to build dense housing without worsening traffic congestion or pollution.

The revisions will include two additional changes: a bridge over Interstate 5 connecting the Morena Corridor area with Mission Bay Park, and preserving four lanes on Morena Boulevard between Ingulf and Knoxville streets.

The plan had called for replacing lanes on Morena with a cycle track that would encourage more bicycling in the area by making it safer.

Those changes were also in response to resident complaints and requests from Councilwoman Lorie Zapf of Bay Ho, who represented the area before losing her re-election bid on Nov. 6 to Dr. Jennifer Campbell.

Despite the lower height limits, the changes don’t affect increases in density included in the plan, which covers a 280-acre area that follows the path of the new trolley line in Clairemont and Linda Vista.

The plan also extends east to include the existing Linda Vista/Morena trolley station on the green line.

The plans aims to transform a mostly blighted, auto-oriented industrial area between I-5 and the University of San Diego into a vibrant and dense trolley-oriented village.

It includes new protected paths for bicyclists and pedestrians, an artisan district, a linear park along Tecolote Road, wider sidewalks, public plazas and urban greens.

The two new trolley stations included in the plan will be located where Morena Boulevard crosses Clairemont Drive and where Morena Boulevard crosses Tecolote.

City officials say the plan is a revised growth blueprint for the area over the next 20 to 30 years.

The proposal is similar in nature to a new growth blueprint city officials are proposing for the area surrounding the Balboa Avenue station on the new trolley line.

The City Council is expected to consider both plans for approval later this year.

Critics, including many nearby residents, say the dense housing in the plan would damage the character of the area, worsen traffic congestion and block views of Mission Bay from houses in Overlook Heights and Bay Park.

They also contend the plan overestimates how many residents will use the trolley instead of vehicles and fails to require that a significant portion of the new housing be restricted for people with low incomes.

LaMattery said by phone on Friday that the proposal also fails to explain how the city would provide new infrastructure and increased public safety resources needed to support the increased density.

A key piece of land in the area is a Jerome’s furniture store, where a 1,700-unit housing project has been proposed, LaMattery said.

The plan would allow the number of housing units in the area to increase from just under 1,000 to just over 7,000, but that spike seems less likely without the ability to build 10-story projects.

Meanwhile, the square footage of commercial and industrial development in the area would shrink, from 2.9 million to 2.5 million and residential would expand from 996 to 7,016 dwelling units.

The plans also calls for revamping the somewhat chaotic street grid in the area.

That would include establishing a more traditional grid pattern by aligning public streets or private drives with Vega, Dorcas and Buenos Avenues at West Morena Boulevard.

The plan would also extend Knoxville and Sherman Streets to Morena Boulevard and extend Morena to Linda Vista Road.

In addition, several “Y” shaped intersections would be reconfigured as “T” shaped intersections, and a few existing streets would be eliminated by new developments.

Article by: The San Diego Union Tribune

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