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A private community of townhouses in Carlsbad. The city is asking residents to weigh-in on a draft affordable housing plan. File photo
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Carlsbad prepares affordable housing plan for state review

CARLSBAD — Carlsbad residents have until Dec. 14 to weigh-in on a draft affordable housing plan, including sites for potential future rezoning, before city staff submits it to the state government for review.

The plan, once finalized by next spring, would become part of the city’s General Plan and remain in effect through 2029.

As required by state law, it aims “to provide the city with a coordinated and comprehensive strategy for promoting the production of safe, decent, and affordable housing,” according to the draft. It “identifies strategies and programs that focus on,” among other things, “conserving and improving existing affordable housing” and “removing governmental and other constraints to housing investment.”

An advisory task force of city council appointed residents, together with city staff and a consultant, honed the draft plan through regular meetings since January. If the task force gives its blessing on Dec. 14, staff will tender the plan to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which implements state housing law, by month’s end.

After negotiating tweaks to HCD’s satisfaction, the plan will wind through the city planning commission and city council, seeking final approval no later than the statutory April deadline.

Municipalities don’t build affordable housing themselves. But state law requires they take certain measures to make their land use regulatory environments more conducive for the private market to build housing affordable at lower incomes.

In particular, municipalities must identify parcels with zoned residential densities the state considers high enough for builders sufficiently to spread costs and achieve economies of scale. For housing affordable at the lowest incomes, these densities generally would yield multifamily construction.

The draft plan identifies enough sites to meet the city’s higher-income housing production targets without requiring any rezoning. But other sites to meet lower-income targets would require rezoning, which the draft proposes to accomplish by 2024.

“There will be action taken by the city to work with property owners, to work with local residents, to make a final determination on sites for rezoning,” consultant Rick Rust told the task force at their Nov. 30 meeting.

Parcels identified for potential multifamily housing include light industrial and commercial properties in the city’s eastern half; certain residential properties throughout the city; and certain publicly owned properties, especially 50 acres of a city-owned parking lot around The Shoppes at Carlsbad.

Whereas the city’s highest residential zoning designation currently allows density up to 30 units per acre, the draft plan proposes two new designations, allowing up to 35 and 40 units per acre, respectively. The draft envisions applying these only to some publicly-owned or industrial parcels.

Though task force member Carl Streicher expressed concern the new zones could become more prevalent over time.

“The concern is, once we pierce that veil … that we as a community may look for expanding” their use, Streicher said. “It sounds great around The Shoppes at Carlsbad, but not down the street where some of us live.”

Future rezoning would entail environmental and traffic studies, and also must comport with the General Plan’s other chapters, including those pertaining to land use, open space and transportation.

“There are checks and balances,” in that “these other [General Plan chapters] have to be taken into consideration,” task force chairwoman Carolyn Luna said.

The draft proposes numerous other policies to spur affordable housing production, such as developing pre-approved plans to build accessory dwelling units (aka ADUs, or “granny flats”). These could save interested homeowners the time and cost of developing their own architectural designs, Rust said.

The plan would also expedite city approval processes for developers, in trade for their building extra affordable housing; require less parking, a major construction cost, especially for underground parking, under certain circumstances; and develop objective design standards for mixed-use and multi-family projects, mitigating the time and cost of subjective city review.

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