Task force to try and tackle housing element issues

ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ next housing element attempt should satisfy the state’s affordable housing mandates while capping building heights at two stories and keeping the number of proposed units as close to the minimum required by the state, a newly formed task force recommended this week.

The four-person Housing Element Task Force is composed of Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and former planning commissioners Bruce Ehlers — one of the chief opponents of the city’s previous housing element proposal — and Kurt Groseclose — who lobbied for its passage last fall — met for the first time Monday, a week after the City Council approved the formation of the group.

The brainchild of Blakespear, the group’s mission is to expedite the development of another housing element proposal that would pass muster with voters — the city’s most recent attempt, Measure T, failed during the November election.

Cities are required by state law to adopt housing elements, which are plans that outline how and where the city would zone for its regional share affordable housing as mandated by the state. In the current housing cycle, which concludes in April, Encinitas is supposed to plan for 1,093 units.

The state requires that zoning approved under the city housing element reach a density of 30 housing units per acre, which the state uses as a proxy for affordability.

At Monday’s task force meeting, the quartet agreed on several basic tenets for the next proposal. First, they would craft a plan that maintains the city’s current 30-foot building height restrictions and cap buildings built under the new zoning at two stories.

One of the criticisms of Measure T was that it waived and changed how the city measures height, which critics argued could lead to buildings much taller than the 30-foot cap approved by voters in 2013.

“The most important task is limiting it to two stories,” Kranz said.

Interim planning director Steve Chase, who attended the meeting, said that rudimentary calculations performed by planning staff suggests it could be done.

Using the sites selected and the number of units on each site per Measure T, city staff roughly estimated that by removing the third story from each building, the new plan would yield 1,800 new units if the properties were zoned at 30 units per acre, and 1,200 units if it were zoned at 20 units per acre.

“In this ‘back of the napkin’ formulation we did based on an afternoon of number crunching,” Chase said. “Two stories is doable.”

Chase cautioned the task force that the numbers didn’t take into account a number of factors that could change the final outcome, including topographical challenges and parking.

The task force also agreed that the new proposal would zone for as close to the 1,093 units as possible, eliminating the large buffer that critics opposed under Measure T, which accommodated nearly 2,000 units. City officials said the large buffer was necessary to ensure compliance with the state mandate if people opted not to use the new land-use designation.

Ehlers, however, questioned the need for any buffer at all, and residents questioned what threshold of development on one of the sites that fell short of the new housing designation would take it out of the housing inventory.

The group and city staff agreed to research and find out the threshold and discuss how much buffer would be appropriate.

Another point of consensus of the foursome was that the city should look to other cities for examples of housing elements that mirror what the city wants to accomplish in terms of maintaining community character and satisfying the state mandates.

Ehlers, the chairman of the “No on T” committee, said that the committee had learned of several examples, and volunteered to look for more, and staff agreed to contact the cities to determine greater details about the plans.

In addition, the group agreed to also begin searching for a housing element expert to assist the city in crafting the new plan. Once again, the group reached consensus that their pick is not to have had any involvement with Measure T.

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