In unanimously approving a lease with Charities Housing for a lot at 817 Walnut St. and dedicating up to $7.3 million toward building affordable housing on the site, the San Carlos City Council voiced support for a project to build 24 affordable apartments just south of downtown.

The proposal to build 23 studios for households at very low and extremely low income levels — meaning they earn less than 60% of the area median income — would boost the city’s affordable housing stock at income levels that are in high demand in the city. According to the 2019 San Mateo County Income Limits posted on the San Mateo County Housing Department’s website, the area median income for a family of four is $136,800.

In the city’s current Regional Housing Needs Allocation cycle, the city has approved five out of the required 195 units that are affordable at very low and extremely low incomes, said Martin Romo, the city’s economic development and housing manager.

Included in Charities Housing’s proposal is one two-bedroom unit designated for an on-site property manager and an at-grade mechanical parking stacker system with 18 parking spots and two surface parking spaces, according to a staff report.

Though the City Council weighed concerns lodged by a neighboring property owner about noise emanating from the mechanical lift system, they also reviewed a noise study finding the system’s noise levels would fall under the city’s nighttime noise threshold and the developer’s consideration of closing some of the garage’s windows to reduce the sound.

Acknowledging many San Mateo County residents struggle with the high cost of living, Councilwoman Laura Parmer-Lohan commended the project as a creative solution to the region’s housing crisis and a good use of limited funds.

“This housing is incredibly needed and I’m very excited for this project,” she said, according to a video of the meeting.

As one of the property owners of a 15-unit apartment building at 801 Walnut St. adjacent to the proposed project, Heather Beach urged officials to postpone approval until a noise study analyzing the sound level generated by mechanical parking lift systems in places as quiet as San Carlos is completed. Though the owners of the building at 801 Walnut St. support affordable housing, Beach hoped councilmembers would hold off on giving the project a green light until an acoustic engineer can study whether the system should be fully enclosed or other noise mitigation measures should be taken.

Though the neighboring property owners’ concerns were submitted after the public comment period for the project’s environmental impact assessment, City Attorney Greg Rubens said the city’s environmental consultant studied mechanical parking lifts and found the noise levels would fall below the city’s nighttime threshold of 60 decibels. In response to Vice Mayor Ron Collins’ question about demand for parking at other residential developments Charities Housing has built, Kathy Robinson, Charities Housing’s director of housing development, said they have found many of their clients can’t afford to own a car.

Councilman Adam Rak wondered whether Charities Housing’s plans to pursue funding for the development from San Mateo County could affect decisions on who is approved to live in the housing. Required to begin tenant selection from the city’s below-market-rate unit waitlist, Charities Housing plans to check residents’ income, credit and previous history with landlords as well as conduct a background check, said Robinson. She noted that if county funding is obtained for the project, it would reduce the financial contribution Charities Housing would seek from the city but the developer would have to dedicate two units to residents the county designates as in need of housing.

Councilwoman Sara McDowell asked how the three families currently living in the seven-unit building standing on the site would be supported while the new development takes shape. Acquired by the city in 2002, San Carlos officials have maintained the property at affordable monthly rents currently ranging from $435 to $1,906. With the rents in the new development expected to range from $735 to $1,505, McDowell wondered how current residents would weather the transition.

A representative of the consultant Autotemp said of the three households currently on site, all three could consider relocating to the new development when it is complete and would receive rental assistance for 42 months as the development is being constructed. The rental assistance would be based on either their current rent or 30% of their gross income, whichever is lower.

Collins commended previous city officials for acquiring the property in 2002 to help with the city’s future housing needs.

“It was an amazing piece of foresight to acquire this,” he said.

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