Poway Road has pretty much looked the same for decades — a three-mile-long stretch of asphalt lined by a hodge-podge of fast-food restaurants, strip malls, empty lots, automobile dealerships and the occasional odd business that seem out of place for the main drag of a suburban municipality of nearly 50,000 people.
Earlier this week, the Poway City Council voted unanimously to change all that — slowly over time — by revising zoning regulations in the hopes developers will be encouraged to replace dilapidated buildings or vacant properties with new condominium/commercial projects in the heart of the city.
“There’s been this nagging thing about how you don’t want to take your guests down Poway Road because there’s not much to show them or much to talk about,” said Councilman Barry Leonard Tuesday night. “There’s no there there to Poway. There really are some rundown, blighted places.”
For more than three years, the city has been conducting “The Poway Road Corridor Study” with the help of volunteers who have met regularly all that time. The study culminated Tuesday with a revamp of the plans for the entire stretch.
At the heart of the changes are increases in density and the height of buildings that will be allowed along certain parts of the road, new regulations designed to attract developers who have stayed away from the corridor for decades because their projects wouldn’t pencil out at the lower maximum density of 20 units per acre and a two-story, 35-foot height limit.
Along certain stretches of the road now, the density will be increased to 35 units per acre and buildings can rise as high as 40 feet and be three stories tall, depending on what the developer will offer to incorporate into plans for the betterment of the community.
The plan already appears to be working. One developer has recently bought several adjacent parcels along the road and announced plans to replace some abandoned buildings with a new mixed-use project. Others are also seriously inquiring about future projects, city officials say.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, there were some who criticized the plan, worried about additional traffic, air pollution and the continuing “citification” of Poway, which has called itself the “City in the Country” since its incorporation in 1980.
Others applauded the vision, saying it was long overdue.
"I know change is hard and we are talking about significant change along Poway Road,” Mayor Steve Vaus said. “But I cannot conceive of anybody wanting Poway Road to remain the way it is. That’s beyond my ability to imagine.”
Councilman John Mullin said that since redevelopment money from the state dried up in 2012, the only way Poway Road would get redeveloped was if the private sector made it happen. A resident for nearly four decades, Mullin said the single question he has heard from residents has been: “What are we going to do with Poway Road?”
“It has been an underdeveloped, under-utilized section of our town for 40 years,” Mullin said. “There has to be enough density in the plan to make it worthwhile for a developer to invest his money.”
He and several other members of the council said new condominiums along the road will offer more affordable homes to younger people who simply can’t afford to move to Poway now. Both Mullin and Grosch said that includes their own children.
Changes were made all along Poway Road from Oak Knoll Road on the west side of town to Garden Road on the east. But the main emphasis will be on what has long been in the center of town, the closest thing Poway has to a downtown, between Community and Carriage roads.
Vaus concluded the meeting by saying that in the five years he’s been on the council, he can’t think of any decision that’s been made, or any that the council likely will make in the next five or 10 years, “that will impact positively as high a percentage of Powegians as this decision.”
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