"Placemaking" permits turn empty lots into community gathering spaces

New permit makes process easier, cheaper
Posted at 7:42 AM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 10:42:00-04

An effort to turn empty lots into community gathering spaces is picking up steam across San Diego. Now, a new permit is making the process easier and cheaper.

It's called "placemaking," and it can be as simple as adding a bench to a city sidewalk, or as elaborate as developing an entire lot.

One example is in City Heights, where Fair @ 44 has turned the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue into a farmer's market, complete with picnic tables, planters, lighting and a coffee shop.

"I think it's very important we see more people and activity in our public realms," says Beryl Foreman, with the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, who worked on that project.

"Instead of having an empty lot or a somewhat generic sidewalk space, community groups have been expressing interest to the city for years that they want to do these types of projects," says Elizabeth Studebaker, the City Neighborhood  Investment Manager.

The new permit makes projects like this considerably cheaper. Before, permits could be up to $30,000 for that kind of development. Now, they're less than $2,000.

The permit allows people to build temporary gathering spaces while a lot waits for permanent development. They also allow for beautification projects on city right-of-ways. They expire every five years.

"It can be things like installing decorative lighting in the trees, or installing a bench, or a creatively painted recycling bin or trash can, or a mural in the middle of an intersection," says Studebaker, describing some of the smaller-scale ideas.

The permits still have some restrictions. Users must keep a clear path of travel. Neighbors also must sign a letter of support to the project.

Any murals painted can't contain advertisements or any offensive language.

Foreman says it can help create a more neighborly feel in the community, while helping businesses by increasing foot-traffic on the streets.

The new rules go into effect on July 1st. Studebaker says she's heard from dozens of community groups who want to apply.