Affordable housing vexes county and Nevada City |

Affordable housing vexes county and Nevada City

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Even as Nevada City made a move to expand affordable housing through so-called “second units,” a Nevada County pilot program has come under new criticism for being unworkable.

A second unit is an additional self-contained living unit, either attached to or detached from the primary residential unit on a single lot.

The Nevada City City Council voted Monday to forward to the Planning Commission for further review a proposal to exempt from some city fees property owners who agree to rent their second units at “affordable” rates. What was meant by “affordable” was not specified.

Some 50 never-registered Nevada City housing units could be registered under the plan.

The proposal, if approved by the City Council, could help the city comply with a state mandate ordering all jurisdictions for plans that provide housing for residents of all economic backgrounds. The city’s lack of compliance jeopardizes its applications for state and federal grants.

“That would help a lot,” said City attorney Jim Anderson of the proposal.

Laurie Oberholtzer, chairwoman of the city’s Planning Commission, helped draft the second-unit proposal. She told the council that if some of the 50 illegal units are brought into compliance, the city could meet the state’s housing mandate for the next 10 years and could not be “blackmailed” into approving large-scale housing projects.

But City Councilman Steve Cottrell voted “no,” calling the plan “artificial” and saying it would do nothing to create affordable housing. He called it “bad policy, bad government, bad timing and unenforceable.”

Oberholtzer shot back: “You’re just wrong. It’s not artificial. I take offense to that.”

Mayor David McKay said the idea came from a group of citizens who studied the city’s need for affordable housing after the city turned down plans to build a 80-unit apartment complex.

In a memorandum to the council, City Clerk Cathy Wilcox-Barnes questioned the proposal, in part because it would be unenforceable and would penalize property owners who have properly registered their second units and paid all the fees. Councilman Conley Weaver said that is why he voted “no.”

“I agree with Cathy that such waiving that would be unfair to others who have done everything to conform to the city regulations,” he said. Instead, he wants the city to revise its fee schedule, establishing a sliding scale so that people who charge less for rent than market rate would pay less in city fees.

To enter the books, the proposal will eventually be approved by the City Council.

Meanwhile, at the Tuesday meeting of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Sue Horne said of the county’s second-unit pilot program: “What we have now doesn’t work. We haven’t had one individual able to build a second unit.”

Critics are saying the second-unit pilot program, enacted last year, is flawed not only because of its exclusion from areas of extreme wildfire hazard – a campaign issue – but also because of its requirements for handicapped accessibility.

For William Barton, the county’s second-unit pilot program came up 200 square feet short, but was plenty long on regulations – 26 pages worth.

Barton teamed up with an architect to design a home for his daughter. He complained to the supervisors that home size is limited under the program to 1,000 square feet, yet requires a large, handicapped-accessible bathroom and kitchen. Following those parameters, Barton ended up with a home with two inadequate closets – one three feet long and another four feet long.

Barton, who’s trade is construction, said the odd thing is that another Nevada County program for second-unit senior and disabled housing allows for 1,200 square feet.

“All I want is the extra 200 square feet,” said Barton. “If you give it to Joe over there in a wheelchair, why don’t you give it to me?”

Peggy Cone of FREED, a Grass Valley-based resource center to empower people with disabilities, defended the requirements, noting that people have bought large homes here only to have to retrofit them when they became disabled because the homes weren’t handicapped-accessible.

Barbara Rivenes of Nevada City told the supervisors that she hoped this was not a campaign to open the pilot program to more second units before it had been monitored, or to open it up to areas with high fire danger.

At the request of Horne, supervisors voted to examine the pilot program by Feb. 11.

– By Kerana Todorov

and John Dickey

Vote to forward a proposal on Nevada City1s second units to the city1s Planning Commission:

Yes (3): Kerry Arnett, Tom Balch, David McKay

No (2): Steve Cottrell, Conley Weaver

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