Council approves affordable housing code changes

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SAN DIEGO -- The City Council Tuesday approved code changes in an attempt to encourage developers to build lower-cost and affordable housing units.

The vote was 7-1, with Councilman David Alvarez opposed. Councilwoman Barbara Bry recused herself but did not disclose why. There was no immediate response to a message left with Bry's office.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer submitted the changes in the form of amendments to the city's land development manual.

Faulconer said earlier that an overhaul would lower development costs and promote smart growth. The 46 updates to the Land Development Code will allow the city to streamline the project review process.

The changes include easing regulations to create more live/work developments, where housing and commercial enterprises are both located in the same building; creating parking exemptions for some historic structures; changing parking requirements for developments near transit centers and changing ground-floor height limits in mixed zones to 13 feet, which would allow the construction of three-story buildings in zones where they are currently not allowed.

Developers and affordable housing advocates urged the council to support a code overhaul.

In explaining his no vote, Alvarez said he appreciated the work staff did on streamlining the code, but described it as an incremental step in terms of creating more affordable housing.

"We really need to do more," Alvarez said. "This is my call of desperation -- we're not putting a dent in this housing situation."

The council will re-visit code overhauls connected to charter schools at a later date, after hearing from people opposed to relaxing regulations on them.

Several audience members said they were concerned that such schools, which are considered public institutions, result in additional traffic and parking problems.

Numerous other audience members, including educators, spoke in favor of allowing a code overhaul to benefit charter schools.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf agreed with charter school proponents who spoke during a public comment period.

Zapf added there isn't enough land within city limits for building new schools, meaning existing, overcrowded campuses are dealing with social disruption issues.

By not moving forward on code changes concerning charter schools "we're depriving children of better educational opportunities," Zapf said.

In a related development issue, the council unanimously approved updates to the city's Affordable Housing Density Bonus Program, which proponents say will incentivize developers build smaller, more affordable units.

Some of the proposed changes build on the state's required 1978 Affordable Housing Density Program, which allows developers to build more housing units than typically permitted on a given project, provided some of the units are affordably priced.

Now, the city will be able to go beyond that program and offer further incentives for developers to provide affordable homes.

Those include offering a 10 percent density bonus for projects not going beyond the maximum permitted building footprint and allowing a 100 percent density bonus for "micro-unit" developments that do not go beyond the permitted building footprint.

Executive Director of Circulate San Diego Colin Parent said the non-profit has been pushing for more more affordable housing and recommended some of these reforms to the city before.

“So the bonus program is pretty simple. Basically what it says is if a new development is going to include a few units that are affordable then that developer can build modestly more units than otherwise they’d be allowed to. So it’s sort of a fair trade. It’s we get some affordable units for the city and for housing affordability, and then in exchange the developer gets to make a little more money on a somewhat larger project,” Parent said.

Parent told FOX 5 in some cases people could see rent that is less than $1,000 dollars.

“A lot of the affordable units that this is going to be allowing is going to be for people making about half of that area median income, which is $35,000. There’s definitely people making less than that," Parent said. "But this will a least help those people. Those teachers who are just starting out. Those young firefighters. People who are trying to start out in the housing ladder in San Diego."

Parent said some of the affordable developments could end up in neighborhoods like North Park, South Park and Downtown.

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