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Council tightens rules on mixed-use projects

VISTA — The Vista City Council tightened rules around new “mixed-use” projects throughout the city, in an attempt to preserve commercial space, and continue to attract new development.

Mixed-use zones were originally intended to create a combination of commercial and residential development within easy walking distance, but four years after creating that vision, nearly 2,100 homes have been built or proposed, with very little new commercial. The new rules would reduce incentives for residential-only development by increasing parking and green space requirements for projects that lack commercial space.

“We’re creating a lot of density, and Vista’s not going to stop growing. We’re going to continue to grow by 1 percent per year, and so we’ve got to protect some ability for commercial in the future,” Councilman John Franklin said.

In Vista’s mixed-use areas, developments don’t need to include commercial space, but can provide less parking, distances between buildings, landscaping and amenities — all requirements that typically whittle down the number of housing units a developer can build at a site.

Critics say those lower requirements provide every incentive to build residential-only projects, which are a windfall for developers who get to rent and sell more apartments and condos than would be allowed in residential parts of the city. By doing that, the city is dismissing its own vision for walkable neighborhoods, because residents would have to drive to do their shopping and errands.

Mixed-use areas mostly fall along North Santa Fe Drive, South Santa Fe Drive and Vista Village Drive. Council members opted to apply the changes throughout that area, with the exception of leaving lower parking requirements in place for the immediate downtown area.

Anticipating a lengthy discussion about raising standards for North Santa Fe, the council also chose to keep lower parking standards there, to avoid reducing incentives for redeveloping the area.

Councilman John Aguilera said it was important to bring some improvements to that part of town, where people live among blighted properties.

“I live up in that area. I grew up in Indian Rock, which is not too far from that area. People walk — they don’t have cars. When school lets out, kids aren’t jumping in their cars — they’re walking,” Aguilera said. “And they walk through an empty lot…where drug deals go down, allegedly prostitution happens, and who knows what else goes down there…and there’s no reason kids have to go through that everyday. Whatever we can do to create some economic benefit to this part of town is important.”

Councilwoman Amanda Rigby said the city should start with the higher standards, and consider lowering them for individual projects.

“If someone can’t give us an additional tree here and there, perhaps that’s not a developer we should have in Vista, because they’re not going to develop that corridor they way it should be developed to Vista standards,” Rigby said.

Teri Collins, who runs the Facebook group “Vista Community Advocate” said she liked the changes overall, but questioned how council members handled North Santa Fe Drive.

“(That) they were making decisions on the fly for No. Santa Fe was concerning,” Collins said by email. “I also think the city should come up with a master plan for this area just like they have done for So. Santa Fe (Paseo Santa Fe). Such a contradiction to what they have planned there.”

Other changes include reduced building heights along Civic Center Drive and along a short length of South Santa Fe. Five parcels were changed back to commercial uses only, including at Breeze Hill Road and Melrose Drive, Bobier Drive and Sports Park, the Stater Bros plaza on Bobier Drive at North Santa Fe Drive, the Vons on South Santa Fe, and at a few properties on South Santa Fe that currently have auto repair shops.