|Millennials are famously thought to be city folk and will only live in apartments and condos in or near downtown.
But the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute poked holes in that theory Friday as it began a series of forums on how and where San Diego County will grow.
“We’re essentially custodians of the land and we have a very high duty to the land and to our kids to make things work,” ULI Chairman Greg Shannon said at the first event at the Del Mar Hilton.
And what those kids want isn’t necessarily what the planners have been forecasting.
Local economist and consultant Gary London shared findings in a white paper his firm issued this week through the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce: Only 51 percent of Americans aged 20–37— the so-called “Gen Y” or millennials — consider themselves “city folk.”
The figure, drawn from a national ULI report issued this year, means that that 78.6 million-strong generation is likely to mimic their parents in living in suburbs and single-family homes. Currently, the study found, only 13 percent of that age group lives in or near downtown and 81 percent of those who own live in houses, not condos.
And yet, said London, local land-use plans forecast that nearly 90 percent of residents in 2040 will live in apartments, condos, townhomes and other multifamily developments.
“That represents on paper an opportunity to accommodate development, but is it a disconnect with the marketplace?” London asked the panel of two developers, an environmentalist and the county planning director.
Two case studies posed a paradox for regional planners who have constructed a set of general and neighborhood plans for the region’s 18 cities and the county’s unincorporated communities and backcountry.
“The real challenge is half the population wants to live in single-family homes in a great environment,” said Randy Goodson, president of Accretive Investments.
His company is seeking county approval of Lilac Hills Ranch, a 608-acre, 1,746-home project west of Interstate 15 and south of state Route 76 near Bonsall. More than half of the units would be traditional single-family detached homes.
Similarly, Newland Communities is seeking approval of Newland Sierra, a 1,983-acre, 2,135-unit project farther south on I-15 at Deer Springs Road. It's a downsized version of Merriam Mountains that another developer failed to get approved by the county Board of Supervisors.
“We believe it’s the right location, not only for North County families but for open space,” said Newland’s senior vice president and development director Rita Brandin, referring to 1,200 acres that will remain undeveloped.
Not to build a lot of traditional homes, she said, invites even higher home prices than those charged in North County in response to a tight market.
“We’ll become a community of completely ‘haves,’” she warned.
Dan Silver, CEO of the Endangered Habitats League, said such projects do not carry out the goals of the county’s general plan to concentrate growth in and around existing villages and towns in the unincorporated areas.
“It’s the same old project-by-project, piece-mealing,” Silver said. “It’s not real comprehensive planning.”
Jacquelyn Arsivaud, chairwoman of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council, spoke up from the ULI audience of about 125 people, to say activists helped shape the county’s general plan over 13 years and a cost of $18 million. But proposed amendments to the plan, as requested by Accretive and Newland, put density where it was not originally intended.
Mark Wardlaw, director of the county’s Department of Planning and Development Services, said amendments were always contemplated in the general plan in response to market conditions, but they are adopted only after “rigorous” review and a vote by the county supervisors.
“People can apply for changes,” he said. “We are very careful to make sure the principles and goals remain.”
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