Residents at arms over Mills Avenue affordable housing site

We’ve been here before. Tempers are once again flying among north Claremont residents over the mere mention of a low-income housing project above Foothill Boulevard.

At its Tuesday, January 7 meeting, the planning commission recommended sending Claremont’s updated housing element to the city council for approval. The update identifies a 5.9-acre parcel of land, opposite Chapparal Elementary School on Mills Avenue, as a potential location for future low-income housing.

The site, which is currently occupied by Golden State Water Company, is zoned residential. However, Golden State secured a conditional use permit for water facilities, including a well and reservoir. Claremont’s Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik addressed the issue in correspondence with Ben Lewis, Foothill district manager for Golden State.

“If at some point in the future, Golden State Water Company were to build a new reservoir or well on the site, then the city would have to replace this site with another site in the Housing Element in order to remain in full compliance with state housing element law,” Mr. Desatnik wrote in a January 6 email to Mr. Lewis.

Golden State Water, in a response email from Mr. Lewis, said it is “studying the need to replace” the existing reservoir on Mills Avenue and indicated it did not support the change to the housing update. The city isn’t required to get approval from Golden State, but notified GSW executives as a courtesy, according to Mr. Desatnik.

The city further discussed the matter with Mr. Lewis last week.

“I assured Golden State that the inclusion of the property would not preclude them from developing at the site,” Mr. Desatnik explained.

To meet the February 15, 2014 deadline for adoption of the 2014-2021 Housing Element update as required by state law, the city must provide potential low-income development sites. As part of the housing element update, the planning commission was tasked with approving the inclusion of the Mills Avenue property as a “potential” low-income site, not with approving the “building” of low-income housing.

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) projects housing needs for the area and, based on their assessment, requires cities to provide options for low- and very-low income housing. The city of Claremont is required by law through the RHNA to demonstrate that it has adequate space to accommodate low-income housing, despite there being no plans or intention to build. The city is not actually required to provide the units, but must show it has space within city limits to do so.

In addition to the Mills Avenue property, city staff designated 451 and 469 W. Arrow Highway as potential properties for low-income housing. As stated in the city’s notice of public hearing for the January 7 planning commission meeting, “Currently, no housing projects are proposed on these sites.”

The planning commission recommend approval of the housing element update, which will go before city council at its next meeting, Tuesday, January 28.

—Kathryn Dunn


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