By Thor Kamban Biberman
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Known for its bay views and underutilized land, the Morena Boulevard corridor is expected to show great promise when the Mid-Coast Trolley comes through in a few years.
The future of the area just north of downtown was the topic of an Urban Land Institute San Diego-Tijuana chapter meeting at the University Club Tuesday. A plan update for the corridor is currently out for public comment.
“Morena Boulevard is special in that it connects so many parts of our city,” said Matt Winter, associate principal of the design firm BNIM who moderated the panel.
Glen Schmidt, founder of Schmidt Design Group, shared an aerial photo of how the existing Trolley stations at Old Town and Morena Boulevard and future stations at Tecolote, Clairemont Drive and Balboa Avenue are strung out like pearls along the eastern edge of Mission Bay. Some of these nodes could one day harbor mixed-use development, providing both housing and services to Bay Park and surrounding communities.
Schmidt, whose projects include the Waterfront Park in front of the County Administration Center, related how Bay Park has changed significantly during the past 130 years. For example, the large park that Bay Park was named for is now largely developed with housing.
“It would be nice if we could bring that park back,” said Schmidt, showing a rendering of a palm tree-surrounded green space as a sample of what could be developed on at least one block in Bay Park.
Like many communities, Bay Park has seen its battles throughout the years.
In 2014, community activists flooded San Diego City Council over a proposed 60-foot height limit. Opponents were victorious when the proposed height limit was removed from planning documents a year later to correspond to neighboring Clairemont.
“Bay Park is not Manhattan” was a common theme of the campaign that brought the height limit back to 30 feet.
In addition to developing a park, Schmidt said he would like to see the creation of a Bay Park Boardwalk and a bridge over Interstate 5, connecting Bay Park to Mission Bay.
Brian Curry, a real estate consultant and the immediate past president of the Pacific Beach Planning Group, also said he would like to see a bridge over I-5. He added that the proposed trolley station at Balboa Avenue and I-5 has tremendous potential.
Curry said the property around the Balboa station could have office and retail development along with single- and multifamily projects.
Curry said while he likes the trolley, he wants to see area residents have non-motorized options as well.
“You have 60,000 to 75,000 (average daily trips) coming out of (Pacific Beach),” he said, adding that bicycles could alleviate the need for cars.
JPI Development is building a 172-unit project, known as Jefferson at Pacific Beach, in the area.
Dealy Development president Perry Dealy said tremendous opportunities exist all along the $2 billion Mid-City corridor.
The veteran developer said the most promising node is the 20-acre area around Tecolote Station.
“This is ideal for a (transit-oriented development),” Dealy said, adding the architectural firm Gensler “is working out some concepts for the community.”
The Morena Station could have its own transit-oriented development, though Dealy said it would likely be built later. The mixed-use development site would border the trolley, Linda Vista and the University of San Diego.
“Village Development would complete grid network through the extension of Morena Boulevard,” Dealy presented in a series of slides.
Dealy and Curry agreed that high-density development is the key to making infill projects work, but it won’t be easy.
“The climate’s always difficult when you are doing infill,” Dealy said.
Curry, who has also faced the challenges of infill projects in established neighborhoods, said he is “tired of planning by ballot and litigation,” and hopes that won’t be the fate of the developments along Morena Boulevard.
“We would like to let the market determine what is appropriate, but the city won’t let us do that,” Curry said.
Curry said other requirements don’t make sense either.
“Everything has to park at a certain ratio,” he said. “Why do you need to have that parking requirement in a (transit-oriented development)?”
Curry said it doesn’t make sense that multifamily complexes are required to have ground floor retail either.
“We fight the city more than anyone else,” Curry said.
Still, even with limitations, Dealy, Schmidt, Curry, and Winter agreed that the Morena Boulevard corridor is a rough cut diamond that only awaits the right jewelers.