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San Diego Relaxes Zoning Standards Impacting Development Under Flight Paths

Changes Could Aid Efforts to Alleviate Region’s Housing Shortage with Larger Projects

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News January 15, 2021 | 5:19 P.M.

San Diego City Council has approved a change in zoning codes that relax density and other restrictions for certain projects placed under airport flight paths, as the city looks to boost development of affordable housing.

The changes, recommended last year by the Planning Commission, include relaxing the current 500-foot height limit for projects placed in some parts of downtown San Diego that are not directly underneath the path of planes traveling to and from the nearby San Diego International Airport.

The regional San Diego County Airport Authority has traditionally enforced the 500-foot restriction for all of downtown, based on guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration, but the city has sometimes granted exceptions that came into conflict with the Airport Authority during times when flight paths were changed.

The city has ultimate authority on downtown project densities in flight paths, but generally must assume increased liability in cases where it overrules the Airport Authority on a project.

After receiving input from the development community, city planners last year moved to streamline certain building codes to help developers avoid conflicting policies enforced by various government entities with input on downtown development, including city, county, federal and port district boards.

Developers have also called for policies to relax density, height and other restrictions near the airport, in order to build higher density projects on otherwise underutilized parcels in certain high-demand areas of downtown. City planners also see denser and larger projects as an effective way to increase the stock of affordable housing in the region.

The San Diego Housing Federation estimates that the region has a deficit of 140,000 housing units that are affordable to working families, due largely to severe under-construction relative to rising demand over the past 20 years.

A proposed $900 million housing bond measure on the November ballot, which sought to build at least 7,500 new affordable units throughout the city, fell short of the required two-thirds approval from voters. However, voters did approve removal of a 30-foot height limit in the city’s Midway District neighborhood, clearing the way for future high-density residential projects near the aging San Diego Sports Arena.

According to a city staff report, the changes approved this week by City Council also allow for denser and potentially taller developments near two city-owned airports used primarily by smaller craft: Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa and Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

Approved flight-path-related changes could also bring larger developments to the area around Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in the city’s Miramar neighborhood, though the federal government has a say in projects placed near military bases.

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