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Planning Commission recommends density bonus update

The County’s Planning Commission voted 7-0 April 30 to recommend an update of the county’s Zoning Ordinance sections regarding density bonuses. The changes would update some density bonus regulations to conform to state law while consolidating three types of density bonuses into a single section of the Zoning Ordinance.

The density bonus, which is now 25 percent for qualifying units, would range from five percent to 35 percent depending upon the amount of reserved units and the income category restriction, and an applicant would be entitled to receive up to three incentives or concessions depending on the amount of income-restricted housing provided.

Any development standards which physically preclude the construction of a development at the density permitted by the bonus law must be reduced or waived unless that maximum density would have a specific adverse effect on public health and safety or the physical environment.

A density bonus permit process would be created which would apply to all types of housing projects, including mobile home parks. An applicant would be required to meet specified conditions when requesting incentives and must submit financial documentation which demonstrates the need for the requested incentives. The permit would replace the existing Major Use Permit requirement. The new policy would include parking requirements, which are not present in the existing policy.

The county’s policy on affordable housing for elderly households and the county’s policy for mobile home parks would be consolidated into the density bonus section of the Zoning Ordinance. The existing density bonus program for low-income seniors currently requires a Major Use Permit but would require an Administrative Use Permit if the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approves the changes.

An Administrative Use Permit requires notification of nearby property owners but does not require a hearing unless either the applicant or an affected party requests such a hearing, in which case the county’s Zoning Administrator holds the hearing and the matter goes to the Planning Commission if either side appeals the Zoning Administrator’s decision.

In order to qualify for the senior density bonus incentive 100 percent of the project units, including the bonus units, must be reserved for rental to moderate or lower-income seniors. The bonus would vary from 40 to 50 percent based on income category, replacing density bonuses of up to 150 percent for very low income senior housing.

Eric Gibson, the director of the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use, noted concerns of community leaders.

“The department shares these concerns. However, these changes are mandated by state law,” said Gibson, noting noted that the county has made changes where the state has left discretion to local jurisdictions.

“We have some control getting ahead of this,” said Planning Commissioner Peder Norby.

Jack Phillips, the chair of the Valle de Oro Community Planning Group, noted that the changes affect quality of life issues such as parking, setbacks, and outdoor area. “The state legislature has seen fit to burden all jurisdictions,” he said. “The incentives will result in degradation of the intended neighborhood character. Some of our marginal neighborhoods will be driven backwards to urban blight.”

Phillips also added that low-income households don’t necessarily own fewer vehicles, which is the grounds for reduced parking requirements.

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