City Poised to Dismantle 30 Foot Height Limit to Allow Massive Redevelopment in Midway District

by on May 15, 2018 · 29 comments

in Ocean Beach

It appears the City of San Diego is getting set to dismantle the 30 foot height limit in order to allow massive redevelopment of the Midway District.

With the Midway area community plan update – okayed by the Midway planning committee on March 21 – about to be approved by the City Council in June, all the chips are falling into place to set the stage for some kind of political action that would get rid of the sacrosanct height limit for the some 1324 acres being considered for the redevelopment. The redevelopment would bring in dense housing – some of it affordable -, “modern commercial districts”, and 7-fold population increase to the area.

But the 30 foot height limit stands in the way of the dreams of developers, city planners, and their sycophants within the mainly commercial zones of the district.

Here’s a San Diego Union-Tribune report, referencing statements by the chair of the Midway planning committee, Kathy Kenton:

Another hurdle facing the transformation of the area is the city’s 30-foot coastal height limit, which covers all of the Midway District. The arena, which is 75 feet tall, and the former Cabrillo Hospital exceed the limit because they were built before it was put in place in the early 1970s.

Any new construction exceeding the limit couldn’t move forward without a ballot measure seeking majority approval by residents across the city. Some have suggested the city place a measure on the ballot exempting all city-owned properties from the height limit.

Kenton, contending the Midway District probably shouldn’t have been included in the area governed by the height limit in the first place, said the ballot measure might also include exempting all property there – not just city-owned lots.

When the Midway community plan update was approved by the San Diego Planning Commission in late April, “… commissioners lamented the city’s 30-foot coastal development height limit, which limits housing density potential. Bypassing the limit requires a successful ballot measure.” Fox 5

The community plan update proposal goes before the City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee on May 24, with a final version scheduled to be adopted by the full council on June 26.

Once approved, the updated community plan will be the blueprint for a massive overhaul and redevelopment of a huge section of the Midway District -1370-some acres, envisioned by the San Diego City Planning Department over the next 20 years.

The plan includes:

  • a transformation of the area around the city’s sports arena, where the city owns 100 acres.
  • changing commercial and industrial zoning to residential zones;
  • raising the district population from 4,600 to 27,000;
  • adding dense housing with an increase of housing units from just under 2,000 to more than 11,000, with some reserved for low-income families.
  • breaking up the industrial mega-blocks into smaller residential “villages”;
  • creating “modern commercial projects” that require heights over 30 feet;
  • making a series of small parks, totaling less than 30 acres – which is less than 2.3% of the acreage being considered for redevelopment.
  • installing a “bay to bay” walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists;

One of the decisive decisions the city must make is what to do with the sports arena – currently branded as the Valley View Casino Center – and the surrounding city-owned 100 acres.

By the year 2020 many of the commercial leases expire and the city is currently not talking about what they’ll do. (We discussed this in our February 13 report.) There’s a whole bunch of businesses that don’t want to leave and want the city to extend their leases, businesses like Dixieland Lumber, Pier 1 Imports, the Salvation Army, the sports arena of course and the sports teams, Kolby’s Swap Meet, numerous affordable housing apartment complexes. (See chart)

One thought among city planners is – if the than city-owned acres around the arena are redeveloped quickly then that development would serve as a catalyst to other projects.

And making city planners over-joyed is a new proposed project for the 16 acres of the former Midway Post Office. A developer is proposing an upscale office complex which – wait for it – could also be a catalyst.

The project, called The Post, a 230,000-square-foot office campus for white-collar workers, would feature a linear park open to the public, sky atrium and nature walk.

Right on time, the same developers who bought the old Post office site for $40 million last year are expected to soon unwrap their own plans for dense housing – apartments or condos – next to the proposed office campus. None of these plans have been actually submitted to the city for approval yet. But the city planners are already excited.

Artist rendering of the proposed The Post.

David Garrick at the U-T surmised:

Such an upscale and modern development could set the tone for redeveloping the entire area and attract other developers to nearby parcels now occupied by automotive businesses, low-level retail and fast food restaurants, said Cathy Kenton, chairman of the Midway Community Planning Group.

“It absolutely is a catalyst for a revitalization of Midway and it’s the first step to help us get on that road,” Kenton said by phone. “It will ultimately impact how the sports arena property gets redeveloped.”

Doubtlessly, it’s inevitable for the Midway District to remain in its under-developed state.

Aerial view of the Midway District during WWII. Those are barracks for factory workers and military families.

Home to many military-style housing during World War II, the area never consolidated into anything other than a maze for commuters to navigate, with a blitz of ditzy low-level businesses lining the busy streets. Yet, the area is close to mass transit, the airport, the freeways, the beaches, Mission Bay Park, the bay, downtown – it’s perfect for massive development but … that very development may not alleviate the traffic congestion or sense of malaise in the foreseeable future.

It’s probably way past time to push the building of affordable housing for the Midway District. Is it too late to allow this moment to be one of creating habitat for the low-income humanity – without losing the 30 foot height limit? It would be a crime if 6,400 new housing units were built and only a few as affordable.

It may be that the Midway District is just too delicious, too ripe to be anything other than a massive redevelopment – a redevelopment that will over the next 2 decades line the pockets of developers without abating the housing crisis, and which will pave the road that will undermine the 30 foot height limit everywhere.

San Diego Union-Tribune



{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Gregg Sullivan May 15, 2018 at 1:21 pm

It’s not economically feasible to build affordable housing without getting rid of the 30′ height limit. That’s why there aren’t or will be affordable housing in OB. I’m all for getting rid of the 30′ height limit. It’s outdated and limits urban development.


Frank Gormlie May 15, 2018 at 9:09 pm

What about all the affordable housing in east OB, near Famosa Slough? It’s all under 30 foot.


RB May 16, 2018 at 7:17 am

Land values are up 10x since these affordable units were built.


OBkid May 16, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Frank – I know you don’t live in OB, but that ain’t OB.


Frank Gormlie September 20, 2018 at 1:02 pm

OBKid – It is … check out the OB Planning Area map.


Frank Gormlie May 16, 2018 at 2:22 pm

gregg, do you live at or near the coast? If you do, or did, then maybe you’d appreciate the 30foot height limit that your foremothers and forefathers fought for.


Tommy Wright May 16, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Frank – OB resident here. How is the 30 ft height limit in the Midway district providing value for me?


Gregg Sullivan May 16, 2018 at 7:57 pm

Frank, I live and own the property at 4825 Voltaire St. where the Green Store used to be. Lived there for 16 years now. It is zoned commercial and the zoning allows for a 60′ height limit but because of the law I can’t go that high. I’ve done a few design studies where I could put 12 residential units (they’d be small) with some office space with retail below and having at least 50% of the property be green space both private and public but would need to go 60′.

30′ is fine for single family zone. multi-family zone should be somewhere in between say 45′ and commercial what ever its allowed to be for that zone. Also need to allow for higher density and lessen the parking requirement.


Frank Gormlie May 16, 2018 at 8:05 pm

Okay, didn’t recognize you. It’s not an easy issue to grapple with; appreciate your views.


True marc johnson May 15, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Don’t want to make it look like Miami.


Tyler May 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Yeah.. building a lot of housing is sure going to start another housing crisis. Those of us wanting more units are just such sycophants right?

I’m so sick of this faux progressive NIMBY bs. Get out of 1969. It’s all so black and white to you all.


Tyler May 15, 2018 at 2:50 pm

Great article from progressive economist/writer Noah Smith:


Frank Gormlie May 16, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Tyler, great article from Voice of San Diego: “Stop calling us NIMBYs”


ajjones May 20, 2018 at 9:42 am

He calls you a NIMBY because you are. OB need to be completely rebuilt. Most of the coastal area is incredible ugly and a waste of good real estate.


dajohn May 16, 2018 at 12:46 pm

I so agree with you tyler, what the heck view would the 30′ height limit protect next to sports arena. Nothing at all, it’s just something to kick and scream about for people who fear change.

The OB precise plan is doing a great job turning this whole neighborhood into a self parodying vacation rental for rich out of towners. Any old OB hippie who thinks otherwise needs to log out of their trust fund account and take a look around.

The same progressive OB rag that was against affordable housing over some rich kids bike track.


Frank Gormlie May 16, 2018 at 2:21 pm

The bike track is not about opposing affordable housing, dajohn, sorry to disappoint your narrative. And it’s OB’s Community Plan that has blocked over-development – or at least some of it. I’m an old hippie who lives on social security you …..


Chris May 15, 2018 at 6:33 pm

Affordable housing is pretty much a non starter at this point. With or without the height limit it just won’t matter. I know it’s only a matter if time when I will need to bail San Diego and possible California.


Paul Webb May 16, 2018 at 9:43 am

Just a thought, 21,000 additional multifamily housing units means almost 140,000 additional automobile trips per day (per ITE trip generation manual factor of 6.65 daily trips per multifamily rental housing unit).

Everybody talks about housing/employment centers where no one drives and where transit predominates, but outside of downtown and possibly North Park we just don’t see that kind of development in San Diego.


OBkid May 16, 2018 at 2:50 pm

ALL FOR IT – 100%% – midway area sucks quiet frankly – dirty, strip malls, no character. Last area of SD that could use redevelopment, central af, and no one hardly lives there now.

NIMBY OB worried that people can afford to live nearby. So sick of old OB trying to strangle the life out of new OB (just ask my neighbor who keeps 3 single family homes completely empty out of spite for all the people)…its gonna be old hippies in run down million dollar bungalows and rich zonies using air bnbs like their personal toilet.

Yikes, glad Midway planning got it right.


Frank Gormlie May 16, 2018 at 3:00 pm

NIMBY, the acronym for “not in my backyard,” has become a pejorative accepted into the cannon of elite planning professionals and government housing agency documents as a touchstone of all that’s gone wrong in development permit approvals. It is an unfair characterization of anyone opposing development proposals located near them, and it’s offered regardless of whether the development proposed is good or bad.


retired botanist May 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm

To tack onto Frank’s comment about the constant battering of NIMBYs, and in response to Tyler’s comment about the “great article” of Noah Smith’s:
I didn’t wade through the 50 comments on Smith’s blog, but I did read the YIMBY vs NIMBY theories– most a bunch of double dutch and gobbledy-gook. All the arguments and concepts put the buildings, and overall site-specific development in general, in some kind of vacuum, on both sides!
There is no mention of effect on any other infrastructure such as water, pollution, greenscape, local businesses, traffic, etc. Its as though all those rich renters and owners and their down-and-out, $1K/mo, po-folk counterpart renters are living in some sort of bubble that is disconnected to any other component of life! Its not just about money and supply and demand- why is that so hard for people to grasp?!
San Diego, thankfully, isn’t Manhattan or San Francisco…and I don’t think either NIMBYs or YIMBYs want it to be. So let’s back off with the NIMBY bashing- sure, the arguments are sometimes self-serving, on both sides, but it at least prevents knee-jerk reactions getting voted on and approved without some discussion and eye-opening disclosure!


Brian May 16, 2018 at 7:27 pm



marc johnson May 16, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Why would anybody in their right mind want to live with wall-to-wall people.


Chris May 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Many do.


Brian May 16, 2018 at 7:24 pm

My house is very close to the edge of this redevelopment area and we bought it before Liberty Station took off. I taught my girls to drive in the then always empty Ace Hardware parking lot, to give you an idea. I love the fact that I live within walking distance of Liberty Station. Its impact to all our property values in Loma Portal tells me that this redevelopment is going to push those values even higher. I’m totally ok with this … which is good because this project is inevitable and there is nothing we can likely do to stop it. What we who live in “the neighborhoods” need to do is focus of lobbying for a traffic bypass of the district to terminate, between Midway and Evergreen.


Roy May 17, 2018 at 8:48 am

The 30 foot Coastal Height limit as created long ago by Prop D is essentially part of the DNA of San Diego. It is one of the many things that makes San Diego a special place, and it needs to be treated with respect like any other cultural resource, such as setting aside a huge swath of land that eventually became Balboa Park. My sense of Prop D isn’t that it was about view protection, but more about community character. In a way it prevented the monetizing of the land close to the coast to build expensive condo towers with big ocean views. I’ve been following what I perceive as an artificially polarized debate created by developers (and their lobbyists) that the residents who want to protect community character are simply selfish. But what I hear is one side saying (the so called NIMBYs) is that its a complicated dialog that needs to consider many issues as you add new buildings and density, and the other side saying let developers do pretty much whatever they want as that will magically solve housing and transportation issues.


Michael Winn May 17, 2018 at 4:03 pm

The Midway proposal will only benefit you if you have a direct financial interest (which includes the City of San Diego). However, there’s plenty of work and hundreds of millions to be distributed, so now’s your chance to jump on the gravy train.

And, if you buy into it, just bear in mind, that in 20 years, this alone will make San Diego, including OB and the peninsula, look, feel and be just as congested as LA around 405 where the 90 connects, but probably much much worse for some obvious reasons.

There’s a lot of money involved and absolutely zero concern–not for you, not for the environment and certainly not for your children grandchildren.


Michael Winn May 17, 2018 at 4:07 pm

The real problem here is that, prior to creating Point Loma Town Council, there has been no venue for the residents of the peninsula to come together and plan something sustainable, that makes sense and that solves more problems than it creates.

If you would like to help, please, register at and send a note about how you’d like to help.


Lyle September 21, 2018 at 7:41 am

Residential units in high rise-buildings are likely to be even more expensive than existing housing because that is how developers make more money. Granted, San Diego has a few low-income high rises, but only a few that are supported by non-profits. How many downtown condos are available to low- or even moderate-income tenants ?

Additionally, it doesn’t appear to me that increasing density downtown has led to everyone using mass transit thereby reducing traffic snarls. There are many practical economic reasons to allow OB to be over developed, and to “Keep OB, OB” will be a constant battle forever. I’m glad there are people with the gumption and persistency to keep at it.


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