Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 6, 2009

The Workaround

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Development, Measure A — Tags: , — Lauren Do @ 7:04 am

On Monday, the Draft Housing Element and Density Bonus Ordinance will finally come before the Planning Board.   I haven’t read the Housing Element yet, it’s 175 pages long, although the last few pieces of the document are repeat documents we’ve seen before like the Homeless Needs Assessment and the Summary of the Measure A forum.

The Density Bonus Ordinance, for those who need a brief recap, was essential for Alameda to pass for this 2007 – 2014 Housing Element.   The Housing Element for the last period was conditionally approved by the State contingent on creating a density bonus ordinance, which we didn’t do, but are finally going to do.  Maybe.   Depending on the City Council where it got stalled the last time around.

The Density Bonus Ordinance itself for review by the Planning Board is all so much ordinance-speak, but it does lay out the amounts and types of concessions/incentives allowed if a developer requests a density bonus and provides the required amount of affordable housing.   

Where to begin…

I suppose the first thing would be the type of concessions/incentives allowed if a developer were to opt to provide enough affordable housing to make the development itself eligible for a density bonus.   The developer would get a possible maximum of three concessions/incentives depending on the number of affordable housing units that was provided, and they include (p. 10 on the reader):

  1. Reduced minimum lot sizes and/or dimensions
  2. Reduced minimum setbacks
  3. Increased height limitations
  4. Reduced onsite open-space requirements
  5. Increased maximum lot coverage
  6. Increased floor area ratio
  7. Reduced parking requirements,
  8. Allowance for live-work units within multi-family residential zone districts, and
  9. In lieu of reduced setbacks, allowance for attached dwelling units, considered a waiver of a provision of Measure A, if shown to be necessary to make the project feasible

No no, your eyes do not deceive you, one of the possible concessions/incentives could be a waiver of a Measure A provision.  So either the minimum 2000 sq ft per one housing unit or the nothing greater than a duplex one.   I imagine that developers will opt for the latter.  

As mentioned in the staff report, when this first came before the Planning Board, the Planning Board tried to limit the types of concessions/incentives available.  Most notably the PB did not want to allow a developer to request reducing setbacks and increasing height as part of the concession list, however recent changes to the overall state Density Bonus law requires that those two be included.    One thing that staff did take out was the financial incentives that could be added if the project was eligible for a Density Bonus but the developer chose not to use it — the exception to this is the condo conversions.

It should be noted that technically the City does not have to grant the concession/incentive — with the exception of the reduced parking requirements — if the City can show that it will have an “adverse impact” to the public health and safety or the physical environment.   Of course, the City will have to memoralize this in writing with substantial evidence, probably enough to hold up in court if they eventually get sued by a developer for not granting a concession using this excuse.   Yet another reason why we have so many City Attorneys if the policy decision eventually made by the Council is to fight the granting of any concession/incentive requested by a developer.

So here it is, Alameda is again at a policy crossroads.  Will our City leaders step up or will they try to shunt it back to the PB over and over again in order to not have to make the tough decisions.  When (not if, as Francis Collins has now paved the way for these Density Bonus requests)  will the City decide that it wants to protect Measure A at all costs?   Or will it balance out what would be less in character with the City more than multiple dwelling units, such as a heavily reduced setback or heights not generally found in a particular neighborhood.

Another item of interest is the fact that it is suggested that because there is an inclusionary housing policy in the City that it be counted toward the density bonus numbers and not on top of.   The argument, as mentioned in the staff report, is that the purpose of the density bonus is to be an incentive for developers to build more affordable housing, if the numbers are out of porportion (market rate to affordable housing ratio) then the incentive reduces for the developer to provide affordable housing which would be contrary to the purpose of the ordinance itself.  

And, using that argument, staff is suggesting that the City reduce the inclusionary housing requirement for redevelopment project areas, which now stands at 25% to the Citywide number of 15%.   The logic is that any redevelopment area would automatically trigger the density bonus  (and concessions/incentives) and that the density bonus would no longer be an incentive to the creation of affordable housing.

Should be an interesting meeting.

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