Development plans may help Nevada City meet its housing needs | TheUnion.com

Development plans may help Nevada City meet its housing needs

A 71-unit housing development approved by City Council last year is set to increase Nevada City's housing stock by five percent.

If built according to plan, The Grove, which is slated for construction on Providence Mine Road, will contain more units than any other development in Nevada City. The project could give the city a much-needed push toward fulfilling its housing needs.

A study included in Nevada City's housing element, approved by the California Department of Housing and Community Development in 2013, projects that the city needs a total of 85 new units to keep up with its growth.

Of those units, nine are needed by extremely-low-income households, 10 by very-low-income, 14 by low-income, 16 by moderate-income and 36 by above-moderate-income.

The Grove is set to significantly increase the city's housing stock, but Tenants of Nevada County, a group that formed last year to advocate for tenants' needs, was a vocal opponent of the way The Grove responded to Nevada City's affordable housing requirement.

At an April Planning Commission meeting, Cody Curtis, a member of the tenants group, said the developers of The Grove weren't addressing the "real and immediate needs of our community."

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AFFORDABLE HOUSING requirements

A city ordinance requires 30 percent of homes within any new housing developments be designated for affordable housing. Those units must be less than 1,500 square-feet, with garage space of 500 square-feet or less.

The ordinance also requires 20 percent of homes in new subdivisions have second dwelling units between 350 and 640 square-feet.

In 2014, The Grove's developers asked the city council to waive those restrictions in favor of their "affordability by design" proposal.

"The council agreed with us that the income restriction model was broken," Upton told The Union in an email. "We have been pursuing the project since then on that basis."

Upton touted the development's location — within walking distance to shops, schools and downtown — as part of its affordability, and units are expected to be built using energy-efficient materials, which Upton said will translate to cost savings on energy bills.

The Grove also clusters a large number of homes onto a small plot of land and incorporates second dwelling units on many of the lots.

Michael Berlin, a member of Tenants of Nevada County, said the project doesn't meet the need for affordable housing in western Nevada County.

For low- and very-low-income families, Berlin said, The Grove's ability to provide housing will be "minimal, at best."

At a June 15 Tenants of Nevada County meeting, group member Cody Curtis said he was concerned the "affordable by design" concept was setting a precedent for new developments in Nevada City and was not adequately addressing the widening gap between income and the cost of housing.

Another development approved by Nevada City this year, The Bungalows, followed suit with the The Grove in opting for "affordability by design" rather than closely following the city's guidelines.

Developer Steve Bowden's "affordable by design" plan for the six-unit project includes utilizing the maximum allowed density of the lot, constructing small homes, choosing a strategic location that allows for walkability to local shops and schools, using "quality construction material and modern building techniques," and "bungalow-style" architecture that Bowden said was chosen for easy construction and economical living.

Bowden told City Council members in July the project was the most affordable housing development on the horizon for Nevada City.

"You don't want the perfect to get in the way of the good," Bowden said, responding to concerns about whether The Bungalows fulfills the city's affordability requirement.

Vice Mayor David Parker suggested Nevada City revise its affordable housing requirement, which he said, based on the developments proposed in 2017, wasn't working for the city.

COTTAGE DWELLINGS

City Planner Amy Wolfson in July proposed a new city ordinance that could increase affordable housing opportunities by allowing and incentivizing developers to build a larger number of densely-clustered, small-unit residences.

The "Cottage Dwelling Development Ordinance" was proposed in response to "impassioned public testimony regarding the need for affordable housing in our community," according to a staff report.

Members of both the Planning Commission and City Council, the report states, have expressed "a desire for updated city policies that will incentivize affordable housing."

Wolfson presented ideas that could be used to draft a formal ordinance to the city's planning commissioners, who suggested the city hold a formal public workshop on the topic to flesh out specifics.

According to Wolfson, that project is currently on hold, but she hopes to move it forward this year.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Nevada City currently doesn't have any development proposals for housing subdivisions awaiting approval in 2018, according to Wolfson.

Upton said Thursday he expects construction on The Grove — which is set to take place in multiple phases — to begin in spring.

The first units will likely be available about 12 months after construction begins, Upton said.

Bowden was unable to be reached by press time for comment on construction plans for The Bungalows.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.