San Carlos is expected to welcome thousands of new homes within the next decade requiring the city to upzone residential parts of town to accomplish that goal, according to staff winding down a multiyear housing planning process.
“I’m pleased that not only are we able to submit a plan that meets the [Regional Housing Needs Allocation] numbers but you’ve given yourself a big buffer just in case those don’t happen,” Planning Commissioner Ellen Garvey said during Monday’s commission meeting.
Commissioners went over a draft of the city’s Housing Element, a state-mandated document meant to outline how the city plans to reduce barriers and facilitate the development of new housing within the decade.
In the upcoming cycle, San Carlos is expected to help encourage the development of 2,735 new units, a substantial increase from its goal of 596 new units in the most recent cycle. Given that the state could reject some of the city’s proposed sites and that projects can vary in size, staff decided to plan for a goal of more than 3,200 units.
To hit the city’s RHNA, staff identified eight long-term goals with 20 policies and 35 action items geared toward preserving existing housing, streamlining the development of new units from multifamily projects to accessory dwelling units, preventing displacement and making the city easier to live in.
Of the proposed policies, those calling for greater height and density allotments have received the most community pushback. As proposed, the city would upzone areas zoned for mixed-use and multifamily developments that are largely found along busy roads like El Camino Real and San Carlos Avenue and near the core of the city.
Residents who participated in city-ran workshops on the Housing Element said they would be comfortable with the proposals, Planning Manager Lisa Porras said, but others have shared concerns that the taller building heights will have negative effects on community character, particularly multistory buildings if placed too close to single-family residences, and the environment.
Speaking during Monday’s meeting, resident Debbie Baldocchi encouraged staff to protect the city’s waterways by preventing development too close to creeks and to be more transparent about how the state’s density bonus will allow developers to build beyond the city’s increased maximum building height limits.
“Zoning needs to give us some certainty,” Baldocchi said.
Commissioners broadly supported the draft Housing Element and staff’s approach to meeting the state’s goals but also suggested that staff find a way to delineate how the state’s density bonus could add to the size of a development.
“It’s not easy to do that but, on the other hand, leaving it undefined lets you imagine these buildings could be twice as high as what you’re saying,” Commissioner David Roof said.
And while acknowledging community concerns, Roof also shared his own concerns that isolating where greater density could occur in the city could lead to class segregation in the future.
The decision to use the state’s housing bonus is a difficult one to make, asserted Community Development Director Al Savay who noted taller, denser buildings can be more expensive to build. The city has only recently seen a developer take up the option, he said.
Porras also noted rezoning wasn’t an approach used in previous Housing Element cycles because the city was able to accommodate the state’s much smaller goals within land use designations. But faced with a much larger goal, she said rezoning is a must.
“We had the right zoning in place to accommodate the need at the time but given the larger need for housing, the greater importance of housing and the fact that we need to build more housing, we know that we have to adjust our zoning in order to make that happen,” Porras said.
Additional measures called out in the Housing Element include implementing a no-net-loss clause that would require the city to find a lot where additional units can be accommodated if a developer is told they cannot build out to the maximum units allowed on a parcel, removing a requirement that developments have ground-floor nonresidential uses along parts of El Camino Real, Old County Road and East San Carlos Avenue and the removal of private space requirements like decks and balconies.
Garvey lauded the goal to expedite the development of ADUs and said staff did a good job of creating a document that reflected the community’s wishes for smart growth. Chair Jim Iacaponi also praised the plans and called out objectives to make child care more accessible as key initiatives.
“More places for working moms and dads to have ready access to safe child care within the city will be great so I’m really pleased for that one,” Iacaponi said.
The community will have additional opportunities to weigh in on the plan, Porras noted. The City Council will discuss the issue during a study session next Monday, Sept. 26, followed by a 30-day public comment period.
Staff aim to have the plan submitted to the state for an initial review by Oct. 17 which will likely lead to additional changes. Formal adoption must come by Jan. 31.
Visit sancarlos2040.org/ to learn more or comment on the city’s Housing Element.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106