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Infill and Mixed Use: The Future of Development


February 20, 2013 

Contact: Teresa Warren
(619) 582-5750

Infill and Mixed Use: The Future of Development

SAN DIEGO, CA – According to a panel assembled by the Urban Land Institute San Diego/Tijuana District Council, large scale land planning is a dying breed in San Diego. With projections showing that our region’s population will continue to grow while open land is at a premium, the concept of building where there is already infrastructure is the future. Such development comes with a bonus of being more substantial and, as the panel’s moderator Eric Naslund put it, will be “good for our grandchildren if we do it right.”

Naslund is a principal with Studio E Architects and the current chair of the San Diego Planning Commission. He was joined on the panel by Russ Murfey, a principal with Veritas Urban Properties; architect Lloyd Russell; and Mike Burnett, a principal with the Foundation for Form Architects.

All of the panelists agreed that infill development was important work and inspiring to do but that there are obstacles. According to Russell, the biggest challenge is having unnecessarily complicated and unclear regulations. He cited other cities such as Portland, Oregon that offer incentives and bonuses for infill projects and approach development from the perspective of what can be done versus what cannot be done.

Murfey finds obtaining financing another hurdle, as such development is capital intensive. He suggests finding a deal that limits or defers the upfront capital and allows for getting the entitlements before the financing. According to Murfey, “A good deal speaks for itself.”

For Burnett, the biggest hurdle is the appraisal process, which he calls “ambiguous.” Getting comparable data for an appraisal can be difficult since infill projects are relatively new. If the appraiser doesn’t see the vision for the project, it can create more work for the developer to provide additional information to get the appraisal accomplished.

Parking was also mentioned as a major issue, with Russell calling it ‘the biggest land use constraint, bar none."  San Diego’s lack of significant mass transit also contributes to the parking issues considering most people need to own a car. “We need to get into the mindset of not driving,” he said, adding that good infill development includes an element of “walkability.”

For Naslund, infill development isn’t just about the project site, it can also be important to the entire neighborhood. He queried the panel as to whether infill makes for a better city.

Burnett spoke of a small housing project he did on 25th Street in San Diego that included a bistro. The result was the street was not only improved but the restaurant brought activity to the area. Since opening, the restaurant has tripled in size, creating a successful business for the owner.

“When we design a project, the community is at the forefront our vision,” according to Murfey who related that his experiences include overwhelmingly positive support from neighbors and businesses versus NIMBYism.

Russell sees the impact of infill projects as “the best thing we can do for the environment,” noting that when you add density via infill it supports urbanism and also helps to validate other future projects.

Where are the infill and mixed use hotspots in the county? According to the panelist, they include Lemon Grove, which Russell credits with “forward thinking about density and parking and all the right things.” Murfey’s projects are coastal but he says there are many pockets in San Diego with potential, including North Park, Hillcrest, Uptown and Clairemont Mesa, noting, however, that all of these areas come with challenges.

About ULI
The Urban Land Institute develops leaders in the responsible use of land and promotes creation of sustainable, thriving communities worldwide. ULI has 27,000 members internationally and 470 in the San Diego region. The ULI San Diego/Tijuana District Council facilitates local discussion of public policy issues and best practices related to real estate development, city building and land use. Visit

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