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Council approves Hillcrest development, community still split

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The business community in Hillcrest is split over a proposed 12-story mixed-use development near the neighborhood’s economic center.

The building, proposed for 0.81 acres at 301 University Ave., would have 10,304-square-feet of commercial space on the ground level and 96-units of housing. It would add 121 public parking spaces to the area near the Hillcrest landmark sign. The designers and city officials say it fits within the area’s economic plan.

Numerous business owners testified before the San Diego City Council Tuesday saying that the additional retail space and parking would be a huge advantage to the area.

Allison Rynne, former owner of the now-closed bath accessories business Shwoomp, said hers and other businesses have had to close because shopping is down in the area. The lack of both parking and economic development in the area are part of the problem, she said.

“In order to have a successful, thriving business, you need to be in a successful, thriving neighborhood. And right now, it kills me to have to say, Hillcrest isn’t,” Rynne said. “It’s too late to save my business, and it’s too late to save so many others. Do I think 301 University would have saved us? I think it would have been a big step in the right direction.”

Others, however, say the large building would stick out like a sore thumb in the village-like neighborhood, towering over the area and causing traffic tie-ups.

“It’s hard to stretch your imagination in some way to see that being compatible in height and scale with what’s already there,” said Tom Mullaney, a local business owner. “People come to Hillcrest because it’s unique, not because it looks like Wall Street or downtown or someplace else. This is the wrong project for the site. The height, scale, the bulk -- it’s just too big, it’s overly massive.”

But the City Council agreed with the proponents on Tuesday, voting 7-1 to approve the project. However, council members had some recommendations for the plan.

Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who represents Hillcrest and the surrounding areas, said the height of the building is a concern to her, and the area has existing traffic problems. She also lamented the lack of park space available. Overall though, she said the deviations the builders, La Jolla Pacific Development Group, were seeking were “minor,” and that ultimately the project was a positive for Hillcrest. Atkins recommended mitigation to lessen the effects of 301 University’s construction on motorists and residents in the area.

Councilwoman Donna Frye was the lone dissenting vote, largely because she felt environmental studies were incomplete on the project.

The simmering battle between the city attorney’s office and the City Council became part of the debate when City Council President Scott Peterson and Deputy City Attorney Karen Heumann argued over the city attorney’s office providing certain information and suggesting certain language late in the hearing. Peters said he would have liked any information on issues like indemnification earlier, but Heumann said it wasn’t standard procedure.

Send your thoughts and comments to Elizabeth.Malloy@sddt.com

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