Tonight the Planning Board looks like it has a short agenda, but the first agenda item has three topics which should be of interest to anyone who has any sort of opinion on new development projects. These are items that were identified in the 2015-2023 Housing Element which was certified by the State of California to meet the number two goal identified as a priority to the City of Alameda:
“Provide housing that meets the City’s diverse housing needs, specifically including affordable housing, special needs housing, and senior housing. “
I believe that most people (not all, because this is Alameda after all) would agree that the City should streamline the process to provide (1) affordable housing, (2) special needs housing, and (3) senior housing.
The Housing Element enumerated a few policies and programs that would support that goal, and has brought before this Planning Board draft ordinances that would support the stated goal of providing housing for vulnerable Alamedans.
• Policy HE-4 “Encourage and support residential opportunities for senior citizens, including senior housing projects, multifamily housing projects with accessible and small housing units, assisted living projects, and in-law projects.”
• Program 4.1 “Continue to support the addition of secondary “In-law” units for small households or seniors……”
• Program 4.2 “Consider amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to require universal design elements in all new housing projects of five or more units.”
The first draft ordinance, I believe, will be widely supported. This is the Universal Design ordinance that has been in the works for a few years now. Even though there have been requirements at individual projects there has not been a citywide policy on the books. The major points will be that the Citywide policy will only apply to projects that are five units or greater, and the expectation is that 15% of the units in the project should be universally designed so that it can be adapted for aging in place or to accommodate a person with disabilities.
According to the staff report, these are some of the universal design expectations:
• Access to the Front Door: An accessible primary entry that does not require the resident or visitors to climb stairs to access the unit is essential for seniors or residents with mobility issues. Adding wheel chair ramps to access the front door of a home can be expensive, and in some cases impossible, if the home is designed with many steps between the sidewalk and the front door.
• Access to the Living Spaces in the Unit: A senior aging in place or a disabled resident must have an accessible path of travel (without stairs and with adequate hallway width) from the front door to the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen area. Stairs within a home are problematic and can be difficult to eliminate or modify after the home is constructed. In addition, the hallways and doorways need to be wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair, and the walls should have blocking to make it easy to add grab bars if they are needed for a future resident of the unit.
• Accessible Bathrooms and Kitchens: Build bathrooms and kitchen fixtures that can be easily modified at a later date with a minimum cost if necessary to accommodate an individual’s needs. Replacing fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen is often costly. For example, replacing a bathtub with a shower typically costs over $1,000. Furthermore, if the floor area within the kitchen and bathroom is originally built in confined spaces, a retrofit of the space to accommodate wheelchair access becomes infeasible and would require costly and extensive interior remodel of the home. Therefore, the Universal Design Ordinance requires that the kitchen and bathroom include adequate floor space to operate a wheel chair and that the bathroom include a shower facility that does not require a senior or a resident with mobility issues to negotiate a bathtub.
The second draft ordinance should have some fans, but also some detractors from hard line Measure Aers. Right now Alameda does have a second unit ordinance but because of, well, Measure A, it doesn’t produce any meaningful numbers of additional units. This proposed amendment would lower the minimum lot requirement and clarify that a second unit is allowed in all residential zones and not just for single family zones.
And finally the last ordinance looks to clarify that any area that currently has a multi-family housing overlay would be limited to multi family housing only and would not allow single-family housing. From the staff report:
[S]taff is recommending that Planning Board and City Council consider prohibiting detached single-family housing on sites that are designated for multifamily housing. The specific sites that would be impacted by the change include:
• Any future development proposals for the North Housing site, a portion of the Alameda Landing waterfront site, the Shipways site, and the Encinal Terminals site, and
• Any future re-development or change in entitlements requested on the Marina Shore property and the In-N-Out Burger/Chase Bank/Safeway Gas Site.
I think all of these are great. I have a few issues with some of the second unit requirements, mostly the parking requirements because it’s a bit unclear still, but overall I think that these all would be positives to meeting the stated goal of the Housing Element.