By Thor Kamban Biberman

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The primary tenet of the College Area Community Plan update is to turn the area near San Diego State University into as much of a 15-minute neighborhood as possible.

A 15-minute neighborhood is generally defined as a place where one should be able to walk to transit, schools, parks, stores, and services within 15 minutes from where they live.

The College Area Community Plan update seeks to accommodate new infill developments, including various types and sizes of public gathering spaces and streetscapes that give people a more comfortable environment to walk, bike, roll or take transit as well as a variety of housing that meets a diverse range of people and needs.

The mixed-land-use pattern is also intended to ensure grocery stores, drug stores, and other necessities can be located near housing.

The challenge for community planners is to balance the housing needs, while preserving community character — if indeed they deem the character needs to be preserved.

The College Area update is also being formulated against the backdrop of a state mandate that municipalities and counties provide their fair share of housing.

Then there is the question of where the housing will be built.

The update says the problem is the city of San Diego has largely run out of vacant developable land, causing the housing market to become further constrained.

“Planning for housing within the College Area leverages existing and future public investments in transit and adds more amenities closer to where people live,” the update document states. “This also allows people to drive less and reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the city’s Climate Action Plan.”

The update says the College Area community is already providing a form of multifamily housing for students and others in single-family homes of five bedrooms or more around SDSU.

A market analysis by the real estate consulting firm London Moeder Advisors shows there is demand for more homes for families, seniors, and students — a demand that is only expected to increase.

For the College Area, like many other neighborhoods, the update says the solution comes down to the construction of new, primarily multifamily, housing needed to serve San Diego State University, as well as the surrounding community.

While adding multifamily homes to single-family neighborhoods isn’t embraced by everyone, the community plan update document insists that new housing can “bring opportunities to welcome new neighbors into a community. Beyond that, new development brings along with it new community investments, which can include new public spaces, and the ability to enjoyably and safely walk and bike.

“Without planning for additional housing as part of all of the city’s community plan updates, new home construction will continue to fall behind the demand for new housing,” the update states.

As of 2020, there were approximately 8,400 housing units in the College Area, which has an existing growth capacity to add 10,183 under its current zoning, according to London Moeder Advisors.

However, the community will need to add anywhere between approximately 10,000 and 30,000 more than the existing growth capacity depending on demands from San Diego State and other factors.

SDSU, with approximately 35,000 students enrolled at any given time, is already overwhelming the ability of the College Area to support the demand, the update states.

The planning document says part of the benefit of updating the community plan is that it provides the opportunity to think holistically about how and why people move around in the community, both in terms of the way land is used to influence how people get around and how infrastructure is built to influence those traveling choices.

The Community Plan update says it will permit more flexible uses of land that allow goods, services, and neighborhood amenities to be located closer to where people live. work and can access transit.

SANDAG is planning multiple big moves in the area, including a high- speed commuter rail station at SDSU and next-generation Bus Rapid Transit along El Cajon Boulevard, College Avenue and Montezuma Road.

These transit investments will further connect the College Area to downtown San Diego and other activity and job centers throughout the region, the update states.
The Community Plan update process will also identify opportunities to ensure the development of new public spaces along with development along the corridors. This will be achieved through building setbacks, wider sidewalks, landscaping, street trees, and other pedestrian amenities.
Traffic modeling will be conducted after a preferred land-use scenario is selected.

The College Area Community Plan update was last discussed Nov. 17, when the San Diego Planning Commission held a workshop to discuss land use scenarios and a project update.
Next, the city of San Diego will release a draft discussion document in the winter or spring of next year, followed by the adoption of the draft College Area Community Plan update in late winter or early spring. The planning commission and City Council will hold hearings next fall.