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Planning Commission gives OK to housing density ordinance updates

OCEANSIDE — The Planning Commission OK’d updates to the city Zoning Ordinance that raises the housing density bonus, but questioned whether a proposed plan that requires builders to construct low-income housing instead of paying in-lieu fees would work.

The Planning Commission recommended the Zoning Ordinance updates to City Council in a 6-1 vote Jan. 9, in which Commissioner Jay Scrivener voted no.

The updates will put the Zoning Ordinance in compliance with state zoning laws and encourage builders to construct more inclusionary low-income housing.

Changes include increasing the housing density bonus from 25 – 35 percent; giving a density bonus for senior housing, land donation and childcare facilities; and having a maximum parking requirement that puts a cap on units to parking spaces ratios.

Also OK’d were builder incentives that include relaxing standards on reduced setbacks, driveway dimensions, building heights and architectural details. Building projects can earn up to three mandated incentives or concessions.

“Additional concessions would include relaxed design standards, a fee waiver, loans and land grants,” Russ Cunningham, senior planner, said.

The final OK will be decided by City Council in March. Builders already have the recommended rights under state zoning laws.

The Planning Commission also discussed a density incentive plan to encourage builders to construct more affordable housing.

The plan would limit granting maximum housing density to builders who agreed to construct designated low-income housing units.

“They would be required to build and not have the option of in-lieu fees if they exceed base density,” Cunningham said.

Specifically, each building zone in Oceanside has a base housing density to maximum housing density range.

Builders who agree to construct designated low-income units would be granted up to the maximum density and be required to build affordable housing units that equal 10 percent of the number of base density units on the project site.

Builders would be allowed to pay the in-lieu fee of $1,500 per unit for all units beyond the base density number.

Those builders who solely paid the in-lieu fees would be limited to the base housing density allowed. In some cases, this would mean half the number of units.

The hope is that the city can approve a plan to inspire builders to construct 2,400 affordable housing units by May 2013.

“We’re talking about asking for a change that will actually produce units,” Cunningham said.

Some commissioners questioned whether the proposed density incentive was enough to motivate builders who still have the option of paying in-lieu fees on all units in smaller building projects.

“There’s nobody in their right mind who’s going to do anything but pay $1,500,” Commissioner Claudia Troisi said. “If we’re really truly trying to produce affordable housing, we have to do something that works mathematically.”

Other commissioners thought the proposed plan went too far.

“We are giving away the farm already,” said Commissioner Jay Scrivener. “We would be allowing developers to buy whatever part of the Zoning Ordinance they didn’t like.”

Builders said their suggestions of robust incentives to build high-quality offsite affordable housing were not incorporated in the proposed plan.

They asked that a workshop be held where they could present their ideas.

In a nutshell, the plan supported by the Building Industry Association asks the city to grant building projects relaxed development standards in return for a $25,000 payment from the builder for each additional unit that the agreement allows him to realize.

The plan would call for the city to review each proposed project agreement on a case-by-case basis.

“The concern of the staff and ad hoc committee is how that would impact the integrity of the Zoning Ordinance,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham added that city staff would continue the conversation with the Planning Commission, residents and builders before the item is brought to City Council.

A focused workshop may be held before March, in which the density incentive plan is further explained and vetted dollar amounts are shared that show the advantages the proposed plan provides builders.

“We want to continue the conversation with a concept everybody could support,” Cunningham said.