City, commission to address state’s affordable housing requirement

The topic of very-low and low-income housing will take center stage at a joint meeting of the Claremont City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday, November 17 at 6:30 p.m.

The city of Claremont is required to provide the Southern California Association of Governments with a list of potential sites to accommodate affordable housing development. The city is not required to actually build the units it must only prove—through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA)—that available land with proper zoning exists within the city limits.

To meet the RHNA Housing Element Update requirement, Claremont must show it has the space and appropriate zoning for the potential development of affordable housing units. For now, only one potential site identified in the city’s existing Housing Element meets the state’s requirement—a one-acre undeveloped parcel on the northeast corner of Cambridge and Harrison Avenues.

At up to 30 units per acre—the average for medium-density housing projects—the Harrison Avenue site could potentially accommodate 18 units, accounting for 18 of the 157 required by the state. The commission and council need to identify an additional six acres, which could potentially house the remaining 139 units.

“Staff is requesting that the city council and planning commission jointly evaluate five sites scattered throughout the city,” explained Brian Desatnik, community services director. “The sites range in size from .8 acres to 31.5 acres. The Housing Element can include the addition of all or a portion of one or more of the five sites, as long as the total land comprises at least six acres.”

Formal recommendation by the planning commission is required before the city council can consider the updated Housing Element for adoption at a later meeting.

As a required element of the city’s General Plan, the Housing Element Update was due to the state on February 15, 2014, and the missed deadline could potentially be problematic for the city.

“We put it on hold and are picking it back up again. We missed the deadline but there wasn’t a compelling reason at the time to push it,” Mr. Desatnik explained.

If someone elected to challenge the validity of Claremont’s general plan because of the outdated Housing Element, one consequence could be the state suspending the city’s authority to approve building permits.

According to city records, a local resident did enter this threat and, if the complaint were formalized with the state of California, all construction could be halted in the city, not only for residential development but commercial and institutional development as well.

The five sites identified as potential opportunities for affordable housing include 956 W. Base Line Road; property on the east side of Monte Vista Avenue, 500 feet north of Base Line Road (eight acres); property on the west side of Monte Vista Avenue, 500 feet north of Foothill Boulevard (9.5 acres); and property north of Arrow Highway, west of Indian Hill Boulevard (7.2 acres).

The fifth property is the former Claremont Golf Course, which, at 31.5 acres, could fulfill the state requirement. Owned by the Claremont University Consortium, the golf course is now zoned Institutional Education. Should this property be included, zoning would remain but the city could approve a conditional use permit for high-density housing on the plot, not for future development but simply to fulfill the state requirement.

“The old golf course allows 30 units to the acre now with a CUP,” Mr. Desatnik said. “You wouldn’t even have to do a zoning overlay.”

The old golf course is not for sale and the Colleges do not have plans for density housing but the land could be used to satisfy the state requirement and to be in compliance with the RHNA.

Although not legally required to do so, the city notified all property owners within a 1000-foot radius of the potential sites, Mr. Desatnik explained.

Showing the state that the city has room to build low- or very-low income housing is one thing but actually doing it is harder than it seems.

“This is where the state law doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Mr. Desatnik said. “Very low and low-income housing doesn’t happen on its own. Developers don’t necessarily just offer it and it takes a lot of subsidies to create.”

Courier Place, for example, needed about $10 million in federal and city subsidies to create, Mr. Desatnik said.

“It’s not going to happen unless somebody is bringing in a lot of money,” he said. “Federal funds almost always have a local match component, which means the city will need to match those funds.”

Should a developer seek to build an affordable housing project somewhere down the line, they would be required to go through the processes required with any building project in Claremont, which includes submitting plans to the planning and architectural commissions at public meetings. At that point, residents would be afforded an opportunity to enter concerns during public comment.

Claremont currently offers 444 low- or very-low income units for rent. Complexes include the Indian Hill Villas, Vista Valley Townhomes on San Jose, the Claremont Village Apartments on Arrow Highway, Access Village on Towne Avenue and Courier Place.

The joint commission and council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 17 in the council chamber.

—Kathryn Dunn


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