Santa Monica Takes Steps Toward Affordable Housing Bonuses

Sunday, 6 Feb 2011, 3:31:00 PM

Hannah Heineman

Santa Monica’s Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council approve an amendment to Santa Monica’s zoning ordinance aimed at providing more affordable housing in the city. The ordinance change will help the City comply with California law and give density bonuses to projects that include affordable housing.

Santa Monica’s initial ordinance to provide density bonuses for on-site affordable housing was adopted on Feb. 14, 2006. It also provided for a menu of concessions/incentives from the City’s development standards including a reduction in setback requirements and increased parcel coverage. After that, the ordinance was extended several times with interim ordinances. The last interim ordinance expired on July 26, 2010.

Since 2006, 30 projects were approved by the City that contained 265 units and 30 percent of those units were affordable. Five 100 percent affordable projects were also built that in total contained 141 deed-restricted units. In addition, $83,126 in affordable housing fees was collected by the City from developers.

A key change between the proposed ordinance and the original ordinance is the new ordinance will only apply to residential zones. City commercial zones will instead be covered by housing incentives provided by the updated Land Use and Circulation Element’s (LUCE) tier structure and implementing ordinances. Another change is that the 15 percent deviation from the front yard setbacks requirements was removed from the menu of developer incentives to help support the LUCE goal of neighborhood conservation.

The menu of concessions and incentives that will now be available to developers includes a 15 percent deviation from one side yard setback, up to a 10 percent increase in first floor parcel coverage, and up to a 15 percent deviation from the rear yard setback. Also possible is reduced parking standards based on the number of bedrooms that are equivalent to the City’s existing affordable housing parking requirement if the project provides deed-restricted units. The amended ordinance also allows the city to maintain control over the menu of developer concessions.

Community activist Catherine Eldridge was the only person from the community that spoke. She claimed that the city staff report for the amended ordinance “was misleading and confusing” and that the ordinance “would not protect the neighborhoods” which is a key part of the LUCE. It also would not allow neighborhood protections “to be defined before it created a by right for the developers. Neighborhood conservation needs to come first.”

Commissioner Hank Koning was concerned that the amended ordinance would “encourage us ending up with smaller affordable units rather than larger affordable family units.” Having larger affordable units was something Koning noted he heard form the community during the LUCE process.

Commissioner Jason Parry suggested having an in depth discussion of unit size at a later time because according to city staff that discussion was not appropriate when considering the amended ordinance.

The commission’s vote agreed with the recommendation by city staff which believes the amended ordinance would be LUCE compatible and compatible with the city’s Affordable Housing Production Program.

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