Solana Beach explores options for affordable housing

The Solana Beach City Council on Wednesday, Feb. 27 began exploring ways to offer more affordable housing options to residents.

The council unanimously agreed on two related items at Wednesday's meeting. One would mandate that 15 percent of all future housing developments, with more than five units, must be very low- or low-income units. The other opens the doors for developers to submit proposals to build a mixed-use building, consisting of mostly affordable housing, on a city-owned parking lot.

Faced with affordable-housing shortages throughout California, state officials have been pushing more and more mandates on local governments, said City Attorney Johanna Canlas. In 2017 and 2018, 15 housing-related state bills were passed. So far, in 2019, 14 related bills have been introduced, she said.

In a first reading of a proposed ordinance amending city code, the council, in addition to the 15 percent affordable, also agreed that the city should look into reducing fees for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs, also known as granny flats, are smaller structures that are placed on the sites of bigger, main homes. The council also is exploring the possibility of legalizing existing unpermitted ADUs.

In a separate agenda item, the council also agreed to allow developers to submit proposals to build housing on a city-owned parking lot at 140 South Sierra Avenue, also known as the "Distillery Lot."

The lot currently has 117 parking spaces and sits at the end of Acacia Avenue.

If zoned for housing, the one-acre lot would remain under city ownership, staff said. Additionally, there would be no net loss of available public parking, they said.

Interested developers would have to get approval by the city council and will be limited to a building of two stories at a maximum of 26 feet tall, consistent with the Highway 101 Specific Plan. Adhering to state standards to provide enough affordable housing, the development must have a minimum of 20 residential units, with a maximum of 27 units if a density bonus is awarded. A developer could propose mixed-use commercial and residential on the property, but still must meet the minimum number of residential units, said City Manager Greg Wade.

Resident Gary Martin said the city needs to draft a "robust list of conditions to make it clear to developers what the city council is looking for in a project."

The council grappled with how much of the property should be zoned for affordable housing, agreeing that more needs to be provided in the city.

Council member Judy Hegenauer originally proposed 50 percent affordable, with Mayor Dave Zito agreeing. However, Council member Kelly Harless said the council should do more to "maximize" the opportunity for low-income housing.

Eventually, the council agreed that 75 percent of the units on the property must be affordable.

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