New home under construction
The frame of a new home under construction. Courtesy County News Center

Wide-ranging updates to the city’s development regulations were approved in a 5-4 vote by the San Diego City Council Tuesday, including new incentives for building housing near transit.

This move will add more than 5,000 acres of developable land within a one-mile walk to major public transit stops.

“The new definition of Sustainable Development Area aligns development with the city’s Climate Action Plan goals to expand housing near transit so more people can bike, walk, roll or take transit to their work, home, shopping and other places of enjoyment within their community,” said Planning Director Heidi Vonblum.

“At the same time, it furthers fair and affordable housing opportunities in our city that desperately needs it.”

Every year city staff updates the city’s land development code, with draft updates including clarifications, corrections, regulatory reforms and changes to the regulations to “bring the city into compliance with state law and advance the city’s housing and climate goals,” a city statement reads.

Among the 78 items adopted Tuesday is the changed definition for Sustainable Development Area — replacing the definition of Transit Priority Area. Properties within these areas are eligible for the city’s local incentive programs like the Complete Communities Housing Solutions program and the Accessory Dwelling Unit density bonus program intended to encourage building more homes near transit.

District 1 Councilman Joe LaCava voted no on the update, saying he felt the changing definition for Sustainable Development Areas was too sweeping to be part of a bigger, largely technical, package.

“I voted no because one amendment, the proposed Sustainable Development Areas and their benefits and impacts — like transit accessibility, mobility patterns, Climate Action Plan alignment and truly affordable housing — do not belong in an annual update,” LaCava said.

“SDAs reflect a substantial shift in policy. SDAs may have a role in meeting our housing needs and must be deferred to the upcoming Housing Action Package 2.0 which warrants additional analysis and discussion about our future transit, mobility, and infrastructure goals.”

LaCava also voted no on this item for the same reason at the January 12, Land Use and Housing Committee meeting.

The previously-used Transit Priority Areas allowed for the incentive programs to be used within a half-mile radius of an existing or planned major public transit stop. According to the previous boundaries, the distance was measured in a straight line, so barriers to accessing transit, like canyons and freeways, which may have realistically made access to transit miles away, were not considered.

The new definition removes the “as the crow flies” distance and instead allows local incentive programs to be used if the development is accessible to a major public transit stop up to a 1-mile walk.

Dozens of residents spoke on the issue at Tuesday’s council meeting, with many splitting over this new definition and whether a mile was indeed “walkable.”

City staff said the change will increase the potential developable areas by more than 5,200 acres while also removing other areas that would otherwise be less accessible to public transit.

San Diego will still use the California’s definition of Transit Priority Areas for other state-mandated incentive programs, the city statement read.

Additionally, developers will be able to use the local incentive programs under the city’s definition of a Transit Priority Area for a full year after the latest Land Development Code Update takes effect.

City News Service contributed to this article.