20 Aug 2014
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Letter: City Should Be Looking Forward, Not Backward to 1960s-Style Strip

Stephen Bolling: “What Santee should have done was require the development to provide additional green space along Mission Gorge Road.”

Letter: City Should Be Looking Forward, Not Backward to 1960s-Style Strip Letter: City Should Be Looking Forward, Not Backward to 1960s-Style Strip

To the editor:

[Re: Santee Council Serves Up Burger and Chicken Outlets Side-by-Side]

The success of Sonic Burgers on the east end of the strip led to the apparent market for In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A on the south, and in the town center with the proposed Buffalo Wild Wings and Phil’s BBQ, both with popular takeout services. 

What this will do, for better or worse, will create a regional ’60s style cruising strip.  If this were the end of the development, I would feel concerned, but traffic is traffic and revenues are revenues, and this could support even more development to take advantage of that traffic.  

And it is that development we should be concerned about.  Will it just add to the strip atmosphere or will it provide spaces to park, get out, and walk around to various destinations?

Incorporating additional park space and redevelopment of older developments into walkable storefronts is needed to balance the strip developments.  Few, if any, commercial developments in Santee encourage walking from store to store. 

It is unlikely many customers park in front of PetsMart and walk to Barnes & Noble, or park at Kohl’s and walk to Lowe’s despite those stores sharing shopping developments.  The same for the restaurant pads such as Olive Garden and Mimi’s.  

As Santee becomes more urban and less suburban (it hasn’t been rural since the development of the Town Center), it will have to start adapting urban development design in which the parking lot footprint does not make up an obscene percentage of the property. 

Parking lots are major contributors to the urban heat island effect.  What this means is that as urban areas develop, surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry, causing the region to become warmer than the lesser developed areas and causing an “island” of higher temperatures.  

So it is necessary now to create developments that use less land by building up and creating landscaped areas.  Merely replacing parking lots with rooftops won’t do it unless they are green roofs, living roofs covered with vegetation over a waterproof membrane.  

With the reduction in size of solar arrays over the next 10 years, there will be much more roof space available than solar arrays needed.  In urban areas such as downtown San Diego, Hillcrest or along the Pacific Coast Highway, land is at a premium and it is not unusual to see midrise development over parking in a relatively small space.  

Not only does this keep the parking stacked and tucked out of the way, it allows for a group of stores and services to be grouped around a courtyard or plaza. 

Land is at a premium in Santee as well, except Santee now has the ability to ensure that future developments are more responsible.  

There are now freeway off-ramps and successful businesses that ensure Santee a strong economy and it is now an attractive option for new business.  Any new large developments that come into Santee that develop the older, unused or underutilized portions of Mission Gorge Road (namely the area west of Sonic) needs to be designed with smaller-built footprints on the land and larger percentage of landscape or sustainable urbanscape (permeable paving, water conservation features, shading).  

Most detached housing in San Diego County during the 1960s through 1980s were built one story.  Now most are two stories and utilize a smaller lot.  And there are more multi-family options that are even more efficient with land use.  

Though these were driven due to economics, they did allow zoning to demand more public open space within those developments.  The same needs to be done for any new commercial development—except instead of creating public open space, private open space is created that is used by customers or provide esthetic value or a buffer.  

Increase the amount of landscaping or sustainable urban space per new development.  Imagine if this existed when Town Center was built.  Imagine a two-story development that immediately reduces the building footprint in half.  

Now imagine its parking lot a two-story parking garage, tucked within those buildings.  Now imagine half of the current Town Center development as landscaping on the corner of Cuyamaca and Mission Gorge Road.  

That’s an oversimplified concept since the better option would be to spread out the green space throughout the development, but it demonstrates the principle.

So there are much bigger things to worry about than an In-N-Out or Chick-fil-A in the parking lot.  I appreciate [Mayor Randy] Voelpel’s sense of nostalgia, but he should be looking forward, not backward.  

Nowhere in the article is there a concern for the amount of paving and roofing that is warming up the urban core or the lack of green space that is required to make urban environments livable, comfortable and healthy.

What the City of Santee should have done was require the development to provide additional green space along Mission Gorge Road.  

Before scoffing at the amount of space that would require, realize that spread out along the entire edge it would take less space than expected. It appears there would have been ample room to do that and if there were not, the developers would have found a way to make it work elsewhere. 

That’s what architects and landscape architects do. Design is not always easy (unless a city council lets the developer do whatever they want) and no one expects a city council to figure it out, but architects and landscape architects can and they do when required.  

It’s unlikely the developers would have walked away for the cost of sprucing up their front yard.  They do much more in denser urban markets and they can in Santee.  Other options would be additional cool roof requirements for the existing structures, or additional water conservation or energy measures.  

The City of Santee should not being taking its cue from 20th Century Van Nuys Boulevard.  I have a history of designing similar stores in similar situations with a variety of strict demands.  Sometimes I wasn’t always able to meet the demands and had to negotiate.  But I was able to provide something, not nothing.  

Other designers have met the challenge even more successfully.  There is a whole new era of sustainability that includes fast-food restaurants and even drive-thru coffee shops.  Some cities are on board; some are not.  

The City of Santee missed a great opportunity to set a new agenda of green space and more sustainable development.  If the article is correct, and I have no reason to believe it is not, it wasn’t even a factor.  

Don’t let the City of Santee miss the next opportunity. It’s 2012, not 1972.  

Stephen Bolling

Editor’s note: Stephen Bolling is the creator and editor of RegenerativeHomes.

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