New Southeastern San Diego Plan Opens Things up for Arts

Arts/Culture UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Long-Awaited Southeastern Community Plan Update Opens Things Up for the Arts

Logan Heights, Sherman Heights and the other neighborhoods just southeast of downtown San Diego are about to undergo major rezoning that’ll open up new development opportunities. Two arts groups are ready and waiting.

Two arts groups have been waiting for the city to change zoning rules in Logan Heights and Sherman Heights before building big, arts-friendly projects.

The southeastern San Diego community plan, which sets ground rules for future development in Logan Heights and Sherman Heights, plus other neighborhoods located within a triangle framed by Interstate 5, State Route 94 and Interstate 805, hasn’t been overhauled for almost three decades. It’s taken two years and almost $3 million, but the plan’s finally been updated. Now it’s headed to City Council on Nov. 16, where it’s expected to be approved.

For Space 4 Art and Bread & Salt, the zoning changes can’t come soon enough. Both organizations have plans for tall, dense buildings that can’t be built under current regulations. Right now, much of the growing and changing area is designed only for single-family homes.

James Brown, the architect and developer behind Bread & Salt, an art gallery and cultural center in Logan Heights, said he has plans to turn what’s currently a parking lot behind his building on Julian Avenue into a mixed-used development that’ll include approximately 30 small and affordable live/work units designed specifically for artists. He also wants retail and shared office space on the ground floor. He said the development will include a dedicated performance space since units inside Bread & Salt are being swooped up by restaurants and other projects that aren’t directly related to the arts.

“Before I really get into the design of the project, I really wanted to make sure the update was actually going to pass,” said Brown, who is a member of the southeastern San Diego community planning group. “The update went through the planning commission very successfully and got lots of accolades so it looks really positive.”

Space 4 Art is a nonprofit arts and education center working toward building affordable live/work space for artists. Its co-founders Cheryl Nickel and Bob Leathers purchased a vacant lot on the south side of Market Street between 25th and 26th streets in Sherman Heights a few years ago. They, too, have been holding off on plans to build a new permanent home until the updated community plan is passed.

“At one point, our project is actually going to be six stories high,” said Leathers, an architect, of his design, which is still morphing.

He described the project as one with dozens of small and affordable live/work units for artists, plus educational classrooms for Space 4 Art’s outreach programs, an outdoor amphitheater, outdoor work space, indoor and outdoor galleries and a community park. He said they’re enlisting area students to help with the final design.

“It’s going to be a gathering place for the community as well as an art center for us,” he said.

Lara Gates, who works in the city’s planning department and has been heavily involved with the plan update, said mixed-use development in the area has been stifled up until now.

“It’s really held development back within these communities,” she said.

Gates said the importance of creating opportunities for arts and culture in both the southeastern and Encanto community plans was something they heard loud and clear from the community at dozens of meetings and outreach events the city held during the update process. Before the update, there was one community plan for both the southeastern communities and Encanto, now there will be two, and each includes specific mentions of the importance of the arts.

“Both community plan updates have independent arts and culture elements, which is not typical of most community plans,” Gates said. “That was generated out of both communities’ desire to really have arts and culture be a big part of their identity.”

The plan update clears the way for all kinds of new development, though, not just the arts-friendly kind. Gates said she suspects there are lots of developers who’ve been circling southeastern San Diego and Encanto, waiting for the update so they can build bigger, denser projects. But she said she thinks the new zoning rules are going to be more attractive to smaller developers who don’t need significant redevelopment subsidies and want to develop their own small-parcel projects.

“We’ll probably see more of the MSArch RED (Master of Science in Architecture Real Estate Development) developers from Woodbury School of Architecture,” Gates said. “The Mike Burnetts and Lloyd Russells of the world will be more willing and interested because it will be more streamlined and easier and quicker to develop property there now.”

But Brown, Nickel and Leathers haven’t been sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for the community plan update.

Brown’s been activating the old bakery building he took over years ago with dozens of arts and community events. He’s also been leasing space to an increasing number of businesses and nonprofits who see Logan Heights as an up-and-coming neighborhood.

Nickel and Leathers have kept their current space in East Village packed with programming and they’ve also been busy getting to know their soon-to-be neighbors in Sherman Heights. They’ve hosted photography workshops for local kids in Sherman Heights and they’re getting ready to mount some of the kids’ photos on businesses up and down Imperial Avenue. They’ve also been busy helping the community design and build The Gilliam Family Community Garden & Park.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

A unique treehouse-like wooden building stands a few stories tall in the middle of the new garden and park.

“That structure is the highest in Logan Heights right now,” Leathers said. “It’s a temporary structure so it doesn’t need a permit and it doesn’t need to meet the current zoning requirements. But it also gets the neighborhood sort of used to a new look and feel for development moving forward.”

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