Phased-out Midway Post Office triggers debate over redevelopment
by DAVE SCHWAB
Jun 20, 2014 | 2383 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A handmade sign points patrons of the once-venerable U.S. Post Office on Midway Drive to a nearby postal-carrier annex office in the wake of the giant facility’s closure because of overall sagging revenues for the U.S. Postal Service. 						  Photo by Dave Schwab
A handmade sign points patrons of the once-venerable U.S. Post Office on Midway Drive to a nearby postal-carrier annex office in the wake of the giant facility’s closure because of overall sagging revenues for the U.S. Postal Service. Photo by Dave Schwab
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No matter how the largely abandoned Midway Post Office — once the central mail processing and distribution facility for San Diego County — ends up being redeveloped, local planners want it to mesh with their community plan that is now in the throes of being updated.

“The draft community plan suggests something like an office park as first choice,” said Melanie Nickel, chairwoman of the Midway Community Planning Group. “There is a need for offices in the area, for companies working with SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in Point Loma), and something like that would not cause a heavy traffic impact.”

Also open to some kind of mixed use, or previously proposed redevelopment like a residential senior center, Nickel said, “We want to be sure that whatever goes there does not make local traffic any worse than it already is.” 

Midway planners want to see the redevelopment of the old postal building and environs acknowledge the aviary roots of the Dutch Flats Urban Village. Dutch Flats was once the testing grounds of San Diego aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.

“That area was the location of Dutch Flats, the Ryan Aeronautical airstrip where Lindbergh tested the Spirit of Saint Louis before taking it on his historic flight,” said Nickel. “We do want some recognition of the fact that the Spirit of St. Louis was manufactured and tested here in San Diego.”

Nickel said the advisory group “isn’t looking for anything as elaborate as a museum or gift shop,” Nickel said. “Rather, we are proposing some kind of open space or historic plaza on the property dedicated to Dutch Flats and Lindbergh.”

There are two existing historic plaques commemorating Dutch Flats in the post office lobby.

“They could be the focus of such a plaza, particularly if the building is torn down,” Nickel said. “We have no recommendation about whether the building remains or is torn down as part of a bigger project. Of course, any new construction would have to observe the 30-foot height limit.”

Blake Mirkin, executive vice president with CBRE, Inc., the real-estate firm handling the Midway Post Office’s sale, said inquiries have already been made about the property, despite the fact that it has yet to be placed on the market.

“It’s been a bit of a slow process,” Mirkin said. “We have not set a deadline yet calling for offers.”

He said CBRE has been approached by entities interested in purchasing the property, but he declined to say who.

Eva Jackson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service in San Diego, said the federal agency recently moved its retail services from the once-venerable postal facility at 2535 Midway Drive nearby to the carrier annex at 2701 Midway Drive.

Interim District 2 City Councilman Ed Harris said proposed changes to the Midway community plan under revision could significantly impact the future of residential development in the area.

“There are as many as 5,000 units that could go in and around that [Midway] area, including the post office and the sports arena, which is 40 acres of prime real estate,” Harris said, noting by way of comparison that there were less than 500 new housing units when the former Naval Training Center in Point Loma was redeveloped as the privatized Liberty Station.

Harris urged residents to become active in local community planning.

“Get involved if you want to make sure [developers] build what the community wants, not what they want to build,” he urged.

Jackson said she was “not aware of any plans to add residential units in the Midway area over the next few years.”

The Midway community plan was first adopted in 1970 and was updated in 1991. In that update, it was noted that “auto-oriented land uses, higher traffic volumes, lack of pedestrian-friendly streets and parks have been impediments for new residential uses.”

While older retail centers have made aesthetic improvements, the predominant auto-oriented urban form in the Midway area has remained. In 1999, to attract new development, the community plan incorporated the bay-to-bay canal concept that included residential retail, employment uses and recreational amenities along the proposed canal.

While later studies determined the canal concept was infeasible, the community plan has incorporated the concept of a bicycle and pedestrian connection between Mission Bay, the San Diego River, San Diego Bay and Old Town, as addressed in the plan’s mobility, recreation and urban-design elements.

The community plan serves several purposes:

• establishes a vision with policies to guide the future growth and development within Midway/Pacific Highway, consistent with the general plan;

• provides strategies and implementing actions to accomplish the vision;

• provides guidance to design and evaluate development proposals and improvement projects; and

• provides the basis for implementation including zoning, development regulations and a public facilities financing plan.
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