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Uptown inches toward a community plan update

(This story originally appeared HERE in Voice of San Diego.)

Uptown got a little closer to updating its community plan this month.

The Uptown area — Bankers Hill, Middletown, Mission Hills, Hillcrest and part of University Heights — is in the process of rewriting its community plan, a blueprint for future development. The process is lengthy, expensive and highly iterative.

Last summer, city planners put forward a contested proposal calling for downzoning, or reducing residential density, throughout the majority of the community, even though regional growth projections suggest the area needs to increase its housing capacity over the next 30 years.

In response, Uptown's independent, volunteer community planning group, the Uptown Planners, is building its own land use map for the community. When it’s done, the group will offer the map back to city staff with hopes it will get be incorporated into the official draft plan update.

Last year, Uptown Planners agreed on solutions for the Bankers Hill and Middletown portions of the community.

And at the most recent meeting on April 2, the group officially adopted a plan for Mission Hills as well, according to those in attendance. That represented a bit of a breakthrough.

Mission Hills Heritage, a local preservation group, had wanted to decrease residential density. The Mission Hills Town Council was more receptive to increased housing.

Leo Wilson, former chairman of Uptown Planners who remains involved in the process, said the two groups came to the April meeting with a compromise in mind: Mission Hills Heritage agreed to accept additional density in the residential area off Reynaud Avenue, and the town council agreed to preservie the existing density in the area near Goldfinch Street.

But the city’s plan to generally downzone most of the community hasn't been changed by any of the solutions adopted in Mission Hills, Middletown and Bankers Hill.

“It was in many ways a status quo meeting,” Wilson said. "There was a lot of talk on downzoning, but I didn't get the sense that Uptown Planners wanted to go that way."

The plan hasn't adopted solutions in Hillcrest or University Heights. In Hillcrest, the group did agree to allow for some additional density along Park Boulevard, rather than in the neighborhood's west side near 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue, like the city planning staff proposed.

University Heights, meanwhile, is emerging as the community’s biggest problem.

“The ugly one was University Heights," Wilson said. "There was some intensity to that discussion."

The city's proposal essentially says University Heights should be left as is. The University Heights Historical Society wants to decrease density in the area, but the planning group voted not to support a downzone. It didn't take any other action.

I've pieced together what happened in the meeting based on accounts of those who went. I didn't attend, and the official minutes from the event haven't been posted nearly three weeks later.

Beth Jaworski, the board's chairwoman, said she wouldn't comment on the board's actions, even just to summarize, until she had a chance to review the official minutes.

The minutes won't become official until the board approves them at its next meeting on May 7. Then they'll be submitted to the city's planning division and posted on the group's website. They'll have two weeks from approval to make the minutes public.

The group isn't violating any policies by not posting the minutes, but until it does, only the handful of people who were there will know what actions it took regarding the future of several city neighborhoods.

“The city relies on the planning groups so much, but when you ask city staff about things like representation or meetings minutes, they say it's just an independent group,” said Benjamin Nichols, director of the Hillcrest Business Association, a group that isn’t directly involved in the process but which supports increased density in the neighborhood.

I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter.