Still awaiting Uptown’s update

Community plans serve as a blueprint for neighborhood development. Each document is a unique reflection of the area’s issues and trends with strategies to implement goals. In 2009 the city commenced the long-awaited process of updating plans for Uptown, North Park and Golden Hill. It was believed that combining the effort would save time and money.

Interim Height WorkshopHowever, the timeline to capture information through many meetings with planning board members in a novel “committee of the whole” procedure suddenly came to a halt early in 2011. Individual Uptown neighborhoods in a feat of self-determination drew up their own maps illustrating where density, parks, historic and conservation districts were feasible to protect neighborhood character. In the meantime the city’s planning and development services departments merged further muddying the waters.

One of the most critical issues is building height. Uptown Planners voted in 2006 to recommend the city adopt an Interim Height Ordinance (IHO) to limit building heights in certain areas of Hillcrest, Bankers Hill and Mission Hills while the plan was being updated. The idea was to place height limits in areas where the current community plan allowed up to 200 feet, so that taller projects would not circumvent the update process.

With over 1,200 signatures on a petition and many businesses and community organizations in support, the city council voted to enact the IHO in June 2008. However, the plan update process moved slower than anyone anticipated. Even after two extensions, the IHO terminated in 2012, with completion of the plan update still 18-24 months away. Opponents of the IHO including the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), developers from outside the area and the Building Industry Association lobbied to weaken the IHO by including discretion to build higher instead of firm limits. The city council denied them, but enacted a second (two-year) IHO instead of having it end with the new plan’s approval. It now appears likely that the new IHO will expire before the new plan is finished.

While much uncertainty remains, one thing is certain —Uptown residents care about their neighborhoods and the quality of their lives. Future development should respect the lower scale of our built-out communities, which is much less than the 65-feet height allowed by the IHO.