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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Residents want greater say on future of College Area

College Area residents have been voicing their concerns and ideas in an effort to help shape what’s known as the College Area Community Plan Update. Last updated in 1989, it will literally lay the groundwork for future housing, mobility, park space, and other aspects of community development through 2050.

Eric Sands lives in the College Area and is a real estate broker, lender and developer. He has completed several condo conversions and apartment projects.

Sands thinks, “We are in desperate need of housing due to short supply from decades of bad housing policy and elected officials now resorting to measures like building ADUs in backyards.” After stating, “It did not have to be this way,” he encourages, “a common sense approach of building density along the boulevards; housing density above, with shopping on the sidewalk level, and minimal parking requirements to encourage and allow mass transit to do its job.”

On June 6, more than 100 other residents attended an in-person meeting to give voice to their development ideas, too.

They met to help inform decisions about how they and future community members will live, work and play in the College Area. The meeting was co-hosted by Neighbors For A Better San Diego (NFABSD) and the College Area Community Council (CACC), two advocacy groups working to involve residents in the planning process.

According to Robert Montana, chair of the City of San Diego’s volunteer College Area Community Planning Board’s (CACPB), Plan Update Committee, “This meeting provided an opportunity for residents to have some say in the future of their community and for many, the future of their family homes.”

The meeting was planned as a timely follow-up to a controversial community survey conducted by the City’s Planning Department.

In the survey, the City presented two of its own development concepts, Grand Boulevards and 15-Minute Neighborhoods.

These two plans propose to upzone large areas of single-family homes to townhouses and apartment buildings as high as seven stories. The survey neglected to present a third proposal that the Community Plan Update Committee had specifically recommended months earlier based on their 7 Visions, aiming “to strengthen the single-family neighborhoods, encourage multi-unit housing near existing transit and along major traffic corridors, promote local-serving businesses, and build the community’s relationship to SDSU.”

According to the City, 451 surveys were completed.

On May 25, City planners, Nathen Causman and Nancy Graham shared survey results with more than 350 community members taking part in a Zoom-style online meeting of the CACPB’s, Plan Update Committee. In addition to the usual demographic profiles of respondents, they reported community feedback about the two plans presented. You can see the full slide presentation and audio of the May 25 meeting on the City’s website listed at the end of this article.

A key finding was that 291 or 65% of the 451 respondents rejected both of the City’s proposed plans. Participants listened intently to the results of the survey and posted comments for all to see. They articulated great love for the College Area and great concern for its future should the City adopt either of its proposed plans. Megan Kapalla said her husband’s family has called this neighborhood home for 3 generations. Cecily Geyelin summed up her thoughts, by posting, “Can the Plan!”

By the end of the results report, City staff and notable community members drafted “Key Takeaways.” Among them, 1) the community does not like either of the two scenarios presented, and 2) the community is not resistant to increased housing, but believes there are adequate opportunities to increase housing along the boulevards and intersecting nodes. Another takeaway asked the City to use the most current SANDAG Series 14 data for market surveys and the required Environmental Impact Report before any decisions are made about the Plan Update. A critical need for parks was also highlighted.

Kelsey Smith completed the survey, listened online to the results, and then made time to attend the evening community meeting on June 6. Smith, who moved here seven years ago, said, “Both plans the City has proposed will destroy our street and leave our neighborhood broken.” With her children next to her, she sat with other Soria Drive homeowners to brainstorm recommendations and indicate their development ideas on a land use map. Channeling fear into feedback, she clearly advocated, “Proposed density needs to be focused on transforming El Cajon Boulevard into the housing and business hub the College Area both needs and deserves.”

Event organizers pledged to share the feedback and land use maps generated collectively by all 102 participants with City staff. Their hope is to show the city planners and other government officials what the community has in mind for meeting the future development needs of the College Area, while protecting their single-family homes and neighborhoods.

Julie Hamilton took part in both the Zoom and in-person meetings as a member of the CACPB’s, Plan Update Committee and CACC. A land use attorney by profession, she says, “It is essential to understand that if the City changes neighborhood zoning, many projects will only go through a ministerial review. Parcels will only be subject to whatever laws and codes are applicable to that particular zoning designation. For example, current single-family zoning allows unlimited Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in the College Area. Senate Bill 9 now allows someone to split their lot in two and build a duplex on each site, without any special notice to neighbors. Similarly, multi-family zoning of 20 units/acre or more could be eligible for Complete Communities, which allows developers to exceed height and density limits, if they allocate some units as affordable housing.” Residents now know more about what’s at stake and why their say about any proposed zoning changes is critical to the College Area Community Plan Update.

In the month of June: The Planning Department will hold various office hours at the College Rolando Library and host a community meeting on June 29. For more information and to register, go to: sandiego.gov/planning/community/cpu/college-area.

To learn more about these issues visit:

plancollegearea.org (CACPB)

areauniversitaria.org (CACC)



Karen Austin is a College Area resident and new member of the College Area Community Council, not the Planning Board.

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