Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"A" Bonus for Alameda

I was able to watch the Planning Board meeting yesterday, and for someone that is interested in Real Estate and home construction the discussion over the Density Bonus Ordinance was fascinating stuff. Action on the item was continued to the next meeting but here are the highlights.

John Biggs gave the staff report and what I got out of it was the following:

  • This is an incentive to provide low to moderate income units.
  • Types of project: New residential, Mix-used with 5 or more units, renovation of existing multi-family units with at least five units that increase the number of units in the project, mix used in the Park Street and Webster Street business districts (the boundaries for district have not been clearly defined), conversion of non residential to residential with five units or more, conversion of rental units to ownership that have at least five units.
  • To qualify:
    • The project has two have at least 10% of the project designated for low income. This entitles a bonus between 20-30%. Example 100, 10 low-income allows for the 20% bonus and the developer can construct a 120 units.
    • The ordinance has an inclusionary housing clause; This reduce the inclusionary number from 25% to 15% that is required. SO the bonus does not become automatic with all projects.
    • Incentive and concessions
      • For ever 5% for very low income they are allowed one concession.
        • Measure A – is part of a long list
        • Lofts
        • Parking
        • Work/live
        • Lot size
    • Penalties for not complying

After Biggs report Christopher Buckley (Alameda Architectural Preservation Society) gave a very thoughtful response to the report. He believes that the Density Bonus Ordinance allows an end run around local zoning. This statement is very true; the state is trying to encourage (force) the building of housing for low and moderate income families. So the Ordinance by its creation is built to override local rules to accomplish the goal.

Buckley also would like for the City to limit the number of concessions in the Ordinance because “The impact to the character of Alameda neighborhoods could be significant.” He is looking for parameter on incentives (height and lot size).

I thought the most interesting part of his presentation was regarding what is Mandated by State in regards to incentives and concessions. The Alameda Ordinance has a list of 9 incentives (page 15 of the ordinance) and Buckley believed that five were not required by the state.

Buckley’s Five

  • Lot size
  • Increase maximum lot coverage
  • Reduce Parking requirement
  • Allowance of live/work
  • Reduced setbacks

Bigss clarifies that the State mandates, reduce minimum setbacks, increase height limit, reduce onsite open space, increase floor area and decrease parking.

Now comes the most interesting point. Andrew Thomas, staffer for the City, clarified that a builder can ask for any concession they want and the burden then becomes the City’s. Only health and safety could really be used to reject a concession as long as it was willing to provide the low cost homes and meet building and zoning requirements.

This is where you could see the board having obvious heartburn. The starting posing hypothetical scenarios that you could see where at the heart of both preservation and Measure A. The one hypothetical that got the most discussion was the Conversion of an existing single family home into 5 or more units. Basically the Victorian cut up for multiple units. Thomas eased much of that fear when explained that scenario would require a 10,000 square foot parcel – only about 100 lots in Alameda meet this requirement; and be PD zoning overlay. So the number falls even further.

Basically the answer was “Yes” a conversion could be done if you could find a single family property that met the requirements. The result of the State mandate is developers will now have an ability to work around Measure A. In a passing comment Board Member Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft talked about Measure A being address at the ballot box in the near future.

As the last agenda item it all seemed to be too much, so Board Member Margaret McNamara asked this to be continued the item to the next meeting

Link to the Ordinance:

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