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San Diego’s Plan to Motivate Mixed-Use Development

Updated: May 16, 2019

The City of San Diego has proposed new zoning regulations with a goal of encouraging more mixed-use development in the city. Currently, there is a long and arduous approval process to bring these projects to the market. Mixed-use projects in particular are a hybrid of housing and commercial uses and help to create density in growing cities, like San Diego, that are facing housing shortages.

“A principal impetus was the increasing interest in recent years by developers to build mixed-use projects in various parts of the city, in particular Mission Valley, when such projects typically require a Planned Development Permit, which entails a difficult, time-consuming and uncertain discretionary process,” explains Evelyn Heidelberg, a partner at Crosbie Gliner Schiffman Southard & Swanson and an expert in land use and environmental resources.  “Spurring mixed use development also implements the City’s Climate Action Plan, by reducing dependency on the automobile and providing for a walkable, pedestrian-oriented setting.  The intensities of land use allowed under the new zones will also promote increased housing production.”

The proposed zoning changes would create two new base zones, one for residential mixed-use and another for employment mixed-use. “Each of those categories is set up for primary and secondary uses, with increasing intensities of use, RMX-1, 2 and 3, and EMX-1, 2, and 3.  The RMX zones allow for residential development as the primary use, but the secondary use can be either non-residential or residential,” explains Heidelberg. “The RMX zones support residential development through the inclusion of shopkeeper units, small-scale artisan or production space, live/work units, or amenities for home employment and small business. The EMX zones allow for non-residential development as the primary use with opportunities for residential development, but also allow for the secondary use to be non-residential, if the secondary non-residential use is different from the primary non-residential use.”

There are many benefits to the proposed changes. The current zoning for mixed-use projects is Community Commercial 3-9, but the proposed base zones would allow for more use types, according to Heidelberg. “The RMX zones allow for 20% more uses and the EMX zones allow 30% more uses than does CC-3-9,” she says. “Development regulations would allow for increased intensity of land use and provide more flexibility. Intensity of land use is set by Floor Area Ratio in the RMX and EMX zones, and range from 3.0 to 7.0.  Minimum lot size is 20,000 square feet with no minimum lot dimensions and no minimum setbacks.”

However, other regulations built into the new zones could also create challenges. “Regulations of the new zones would require building frontage activation, pedestrian entrances and connections, and would prohibit surface parking within the front and street yards,” adds Heidelberg.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend the new zoning regulations in April, and next, the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee will decide later this month. “On May 23, the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee will take up the matter, and may vote on a recommendation to the full City Council, which is expected to consider adoption of the new zoning categories and regulations in June or July,” says Heidelberg.

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