As Foster City tries to meet its state-mandated housing unit requirements, the City Council wants resident input as it considers creating an affordable housing overlay zone in several areas.

California is pushing for more affordable housing units through increased penalties for cities that don’t meet housing development requirements, leading Foster City at its May 3 meeting to discuss affordable housing overlay for apartment locations. An affordable housing overlay would add a housing zoning layer on top of an existing zoning ordinance to encourage the redevelopment of apartment properties with additional units. The overlay would help meet the city’s Regional Housing Need Allocation, or RHNA, which determines how many housing units a city must plan for in its general plan housing element.

Mayor Sanjay Gehani stressed the city was not approving an affordable housing zone at the May 3 meeting but wanted to get public input about the issue at future meetings.

“The idea is if we say yes to this, then this is the community’s chance to come out and have a conversation with us and really understand how much control we do have in the state that we live,” Gehani said.

City staff said the overlay zone would not change maximum housing density, just the percentage of affordable housing. The city said potential affordable housing overlay zones sites are at Franciscan Apartments, Shadow Cove Apartments, Sand Cove Apartments and Beach Cove Apartments. The five sites were picked due to size, age and density. Other interests for affordable housing overlay zones came from Lantern Cove Apartments and Schooner Bay Apartments owners.

Gehani noted that the five proposed sites meet RHNA cycle five housing unit requirements. However, the city still has to figure out housing unit options for RHNA cycle six. RHNA cycle five calls for 430 new housing units, while RHNA cycle six calls for 1,800. The city said it had met a large portion of its cycle five numbers but has not determined how to meet its upcoming numbers.

Vice Mayor Richa Awasthi said it was critical to consider the emails and concerns raised by community members about increased development.

“We promised them transparency, we promised them open communication, and we promised them ways by which we can look at mitigating any impacts,” Awasthi said.

Foster City passed four resolutions Monday to meet state policy obligations for its Housing Element for the 2015-2023 planning period to address existing and projected housing needs. The four resolutions will consider adding an affordable housing overlay combining zone, rezoning of properties to an affordable housing overlay zone, adding multifamily housing objective design standards and adding an affordable housing requirement. The resolutions do not commit the city to any final decisions but begin housing development discussions for future adoption of housing element programs by the end of 2021. The city’s current Housing Element was adopted in 2015.

The state can require cities to follow through on housing development programs included in the city’s housing element to retain certification as part of the General Plan process. Loss of certification would make the city ineligible for some funding, lose control over the development review process and face potential legal challenges. State law also says a city’s housing element must identify sites that will be rezoned to meet RHNA numbers.

Councilmember Patrick Sullivan wanted to help families in Foster City by having more affordable units with multiple bedrooms instead of one-bedroom options that don’t fit needs. City staff said the bedroom mix for the affordable units has to mirror the bedroom mix for market-rate units but noted the city could explore ways to provide more multiple bedrooms in new developments.

“I know we can’t solve the whole problem with housing, but we can’t solve the problem by making more one-bedrooms or more just two bedrooms,” Sullivan said.

Councilmember Jon Froomin noted the council was not committing to any decisions related to the resolutions. Instead, the city is moving the items forward to investigate, review, get public input and develop ideas for decisions. Councilmember Sam Hindi said the overlay zone strategy would target affordable housing numbers deficiencies in the previous RHNA cycle.

“It will give us the opportunity to make those up,” he said.

Hindi also said the city had to balance meeting RHNA numbers while also having the least impact on the neighborhood near the proposed locations.

“That’s extremely critical as we approach these things,” Hindi said.

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