New law could kick-start Nevada County housing development
Faced with a less-than-successful strategy for providing affordable housing, Nevada County will look to eliminate its low-income-unit mandates — possibly triggering a kick-start for new single-family home development countywide.
An ordinance, on hold for four years in order to have it dovetail with the county general plan’s housing element update, will come before the Nevada County Planning Commission today to eliminate mandates for so-called “inclusionary housing,” or deed-restricted affordable housing.
An approval by the Planning Commission at its meeting at 1:30 p.m. today — in the Rood administration building, 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City — sends a recommendation to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
Nevada County Principal Planner Tyler Barrington said the ordinance, if approved by county supervisors, would affect 71 units in six existing housing projects and a hypothetical 149 units that would have been earmarked for affordable housing in future projects.
The ordinance is in response to critics of the program, who have complained that it didn’t work, that it made it impossible for developers to get funding for a project and that it was a “shell game,” because developers had to shift the costs of providing the affordable units to market-rate housing in the form of higher prices.
“The county has approved six projects that had inclusionary housing requirements tied to them, the first of which was in 1997,” Barrington said Wednesday.
To date, Barrington said, none of those 79 total units have been built; the new owners of what had been Saddle Ridge development, and what is now Cascade Crossing, in 2011 paid in-lieu fees to have requirements for eight affordable units removed, bringing the total down to 71 still in the books but not yet built.
Barrington said the money from the in-lieu fees went into the county’s first-time homebuyers downpayment assistance program.
“We would anticipate that the developers of those (other five) projects may come back in and amend their original approvals to remove the mandated affordable housing if this ordinance is approved by the Board of Supervisors,” Barrington added.
He said the future 149-unit figure was “based on the current general plan designations and allowable density. That’s if all of those properties that met the inclusionary housing criteria built out at their full density.”
Nevada County’s inclusionary housing requirements applied to only subdivisions or multi-family housing projects of 20-units or greater in the urban single family, urban medium density and urban high density general plan designations, Barrington said.
“Those projects are required to provide 10 percent of their units as affordable,” he said.
Barrington added that the move to eliminate the mandates was first proposed by the county supervisors in 2011. However, since the county had just done an update in 2010 of the general plan’s housing element, they decided to wait until 2015, when the next housing element update was scheduled, to make changes.
If they had acted in 2011, it would have triggered a new housing element update, Barrington said.
“Having an inclusionary housing requirement has been viewed by the county Board of Supervisors as a constraint of the development of housing and subsequently this was the thrust of the board’s direction back in 2011,” he said.
The six projects that currently have the affordable units mandate are:
— DarkHorse (South County): 230 total lots, 23 affordable units required.
— Villaggio di Vigneto (Lake Wildwood/Penn Valley area): 49 total lots, five affordable units required.
— Wildwood Ridge (Lake Wildwood/Penn Valley area): 352 total lots, 36 affordable units required and 48 affordable units provided.
— Saddle Ridge (South County), now known as Cascade Crossing: 80 total single-family lots; in-lieu fees paid in 2011 by new developer, Homes by Towne, to eliminate requirement for eight affordable units contained in original plan.
— Hilltop Estates (South County): 38 total lots, four affordable units required.
— Bear River Plaza (South County): 28 total units; three affordable units required.
According to the Planning Commission’s staff report, “much of the lack of performance in terms of the development of these affordable housing units can be attributed to the significant economic downturn experienced in Nevada County and the state. It is (also) possible that the deed restrictions required for maintaining the affordability of these units could be viewed as a limiting factor.”
To see the staff report, go to http://www.mynevadacounty.com, “departments,” Planning Department,” and click on “Projects Scheduled for Public Meeting.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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