Buena Vista development could be test case for city's affordable housing strategy

Buena Vista development could be test case for city's affordable housing strategy

Michele Ellson

The Planning Board’s discussion Monday about a proposal to build 89 homes where at Chipman Relocation warehouse now stands took a unique turn: Some Planning Board members said they want more homes built on the site, while the developer seeking to build there said he’d be happy to construct fewer of them.

The Chipman site on Buena Vista Avenue is one of 10 for which the City Council granted exceptions to a nearly 40-year-old ban on apartment buildings in order to win long-sought state approval of the city’s housing development strategy, which anticipated that as many as 193 new homes could be built there. But a developer seeking to construct a long-planned second phase of the Marina Cove development said that he has no interest in building more on the site, calling the suggestion that apartments be constructed there a “disaster.”

Housing advocates who attended Monday’s meeting said that while they’re happy something is being built, they’re concerned that the city won’t meet its affordable housing goals and that the city’s housing strategy – which is due to be renewed in 2014 – could fall out of compliance with the state.

“We’re leaving a lot of capacity behind on our multifamily overlay,” Bill Smith of Renewed Hope said, referring to the zoning overlay that allows apartments to be built despite Measure A. “We’re short 100 units.”

The development proposal could serve as an important test case of the city’s newly minted housing strategy, which allowed the development of multifamily housing on 10 sites in order to gain state approval of the so-called “housing element” of Alameda’s general plan and avoid litigation that could have eliminated Measure A, which prohibits the development of anything denser than a duplex. The Chipman warehouse site sits between the first phase of the Marina Cove development and a defunct Del Monte warehouse in an area the city’s top planner said is “in transition.”

The Boatworks development on Clement Street includes an apartment building, but its owner and the city are snarled in litigation. The Mapes Ranch development the City Council just approved is slated to include 11 single-family homes. The proposed 278-unit housing development at Alameda Landing would include a 24-unit apartment building, along with 136 townhomes and 118 single-family houses.

Trident had sought to build the 69 homes the city originally approved for the second phase of the Marina Cove project in 2000, but city staffers pushed back, saying they wanted the project to include more homes that would be affordable for the Island’s lower income residents. Trident agreed to build 16 affordable homes as part of an 89-unit project, which is six more than they had originally planned to build but two fewer than had been originally called for.

The board deferred a decision on a tentative map laying out the location and size of lots for the proposed development, which would include 51 single-family homes and 38 duplexes, all two- to three-stories, on a little over seven acres, to its November 13 meeting. Trident doesn’t own the property yet, and gaining city approval of the map is a condition of that sale.

Acting City Planner Andrew Thomas said the dearth of units put the city “close” to a deficit in its affordable housing projections, said city staffers would look at additional sites where such housing could be built if the city couldn’t show that it had enough properly zoned land to meet its state-mandated affordable housing needs.

“By approving this, you are not going into a deficit. But you are using pretty much your entire surplus,” Thomas said.

The state requires the city to show it has enough properly zoned land to meet its affordable housing goals, but the city isn’t required to actually get the housing built. Thomas said city leaders can’t require housing projects to be built at a certain density, but that they may be able to require a developer to construct additional units to conform with the city’s housing strategy.

The Marina Cove plan was approved before the current housing element was put in place, and the first phase of it was completed in 2003. But the project approvals have since expired, requiring the new developer to seek fresh ones to move forward on the project’s second phase.

Trident had sought to build the 69 homes originally proposed, but city staffers sought more affordable housing. So the developer came back with the 89-unit plan, which complies with Measure A and eschews the additional units that would be allowed on the site under its new zoning.

Board President Lorre Zuppan said she was concerned about the lack of space between the homes proposed, and she questioned where additional homes might be built. Thomas said that adding homes would require a multifamily, rather than single family, design.

Trident’s John Shelton said the developer offered the current plan in an effort to meet the city’s needs, but that it must also heed the call of the marketplace.

“This site plan works for the marketplace. It works for the community. It will work great for the project,” said Shelton. “If we don’t get it right, they’re not going to buy it.”

At one point, Shelton offered to delete duplex units from a contested cul-de-sac he said Trident added in an effort to meet the city’s affordable housing needs.

“I’m willing to sacrifice the lot. But you gotta be willing to sacrifice your numbers,” he said.

Some board members expressed frustration with the lack of affordable housing being proposed. Board Member Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft allowed that Trident’s situation may be unique because they are seeking to complete a development that was approved long before the current rules were put in place, but she said she’s concerned that allowing current development proposals to proceed without meeting affordable housing targets could place pressure on future ones to make up the difference.

“We do have this requirement, and we didn’t go through all this work and turmoil to fall short,” Ezzy Ashcraft said. “This is a good kind of test case. Our housing element numbers in the future – it shouldn’t be left to the last man standing.”