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The City Starts Making Its Case in Grantville

Death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Traffic and parking are the only certainties in development debates.

San Diego’s effort to remake industrial Grantville into an urban village of apartments, stores and offices, is coming up against a familiar foe: traffic.

The years-in-the-making proposal is going forward after the city released late last month an environmental study that quantified just what building 8,000 new homes will mean for congestion in the area.

Turns out, it will mean traffic delays.

Grantville’s already home to a trolley stop, so the area is seen as ripe for inclusion in the city’s attempts to concentrate new housing construction close to public transportation.

But the city’s push to address its share of the region’s 300,000-some homes needed to accommodate expected population growth, according to the regional planning agency SANDAG’s long-term forecasts, has nonetheless been met by opposition from the areas asked to welcome new development.

Those neighborhoods have baulked at issues like building height, obstructed views or potential increases in crime, but mostly the complaints come down to two things.

“Traffic and parking are usually the two major issues that come up,” said Councilman Scott Sherman, who represents the Grantville area. He said his primary concerns are traffic, and solving chronic flooding problems for nearby Alvarado Creek.

Many residents have vocally opposed One Paseo, a project to build some 600 units plus shops and offices in Carmel Valley. Likewise, a city plan to increase development near a new trolley station in Bay Park generated heated opposition last year.

Now, the city’s tasked with convincing Grantville residents that traffic delays are worth the payoff: a walkable neighborhood, with reasonably priced homes near the trolley. The environmental report makes clear that traffic is a necessary byproduct of the plan.

Building all the new housing discussed in the plan would bring all of the area’s intersections to an “unacceptable” level by 2030 —a technical classification defined as longer than a one minute, 20-second delay during morning and evening rush hour.

But the plan calls for some construction to ease the problems—mostly widening the existing roads, adding dedicated turn lanes or adding traffic signals. Still, by 2030 all the neighborhood’s major intersections would see slower traffic flow.

Brian Schoenfisch, a city program manager, said there’s a certain inevitability to some traffic increases with new development, but that the purpose of the plan is to put new homes near the trolley so people don’t have to rely on a car.

“The focus of project itself is to take advantage and utilize the trolley,” he said. “The focus is to have higher density directly adjacent to station, and it goes down as you get further away. The other focus is to have transportation choices in the area, to enhance sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian crossings and to get people to the trolley.”

Some Grantville residents have already stood up against the proposal. Namely Brian Peterson, who runs a veterinary practice in the area and who formed a formal opposition group, the Grantville Action Group.

The environmental report has established the terms of debate over the plan.

Planning Commissioner Anthony Wagner, a resident of nearby Allied Gardens who served on neighborhood group there before former Mayor Bob Filner appointed him to the citywide planning authority, said the study should make the city give its plan another look.

More than half of the proposed new homes, 4,594, are planned within a quarter mile of the trolley. It’s the other 3,782 homes, Wagner said, that will create the most traffic problems.

“Now that we know what 8,376 units will bring, I think we should look at lowering the level of multi-family density outside the quarter mile from the trolley or more adequately mitigate the traffic concerns,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said the area is the quintessential place for the city’s transit-focused development approach. One way to deal with traffic, he suggested, is to consider a shuttle or bus with frequent service that moves people around Grantville and neighboring areas.

“I need to be able to look my neighbors in the face and say this is best we can build here and now,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”

The city is currently collecting resident responses to the environmental study through February. It’s presenting the study’s findings to neighborhood groups in the meantime.

In the process, the city will learn just how much opposition the proposal generates. But Sherman’s optimistic.

“We’re kind of at a transformative stage, where the younger generation is used to using mass transit,” he said. “People’s attitudes are changing, and we’re getting to a point where we can take advantage of it.”

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