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Hidden Creek Village sent to City Council

Posted: Thursday, Nov 13th, 2008

How many apartments will allowed in a proposed 84-unit multi-family affordable housing project called the Hidden Creek Village near the corner of Niblick and South River Roads and the Albertson’s Shopping Center will ultimately be up to the City Council to consider.

On Tuesday, the Paso Robles Planning Commission voted 5-1 with commissioner Tom Flynn dissenting and commissioner Margaret Holstine absent to take minute action recommending the City Council adopt the planned development and adopt an accompanying mitigated negative declaration.

The City Council must now determine if the applicant, Conner LLC, will be allowed a density bonus of 83 percent in order to allow 84 units instead of the standard 46 units normally allowed. Under state law, cities must provide at least 35 percent density bonuses on applicable affordable housing projects but don’t necessarily have to approve more.

Several commissioners, as well as several members of the public representing the surrounding neighborhood in areas like Quarterhorse Lane and Navajo Avenue, expressed concerns over the proposed density. Commissioner Flynn, the lone dissenting vote, cited the negative impacts of the proposed density on the surrounding neighborhood.

“I don’t think that the traffic circulation is in the best interest of the neighborhood,” he said.

Commissioner Ron Johnson was concerned about the traffic impacts, but the motion to approve the project was changed to include a condition that the applicant work with city staff to work out a circulation plan on a nearby street, and he later voted in favor of the recommendation after the condition was added.

The project itself proposes 84 apartment units, a 3,600 square-foot clubhouse, 3,400 square-feet of common open space, two tot lots, trellised barbecue and picnic table areas. In an effort to minimize traffic impacts, the applicant constructed a mass transit turnout. The project will be reserved for low-income tenants. The applicant is proposing to partner with the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo County to develop and manage the project, according to a city staff report.

Thom Jess, AIA, Arris Studio Architects, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting representing the applicant. He described the project as “100 percent affordable.”

“The cost of market rate housing is a problem,” he told to the commission.

Jess said the housing would provide for families and people with a gap in what they make and what housing costs. All of the concerns of the neighbors, some of which were read into the record that night, were anticipated early in the project planning process and have been adequately addressed, he said. Many of the residents were concerned about the impacts on community safety and density.

“We’ve tried hard to anticipate what the concerns are and address them,” Jess said.

Some neighbors were concerned about not being noticed properly, as well as issues including, but not limited to, adequate buffering, impacts of high density on surrounding neighborhoods, parking, community safety, as well as other details like whether fencing would be provided; whether the railings would be open or closed; whether the open space requirements were met; and increased crime.

The most common concern on Tuesday was density.

According to city staff, the council must allow the 35 percent density increase; however, it also has the authority to determine that the project shall be less dense with the burden placed on the developer to prove that a certain lesser density would make the project economically infeasible.

Commissioner Joel Peterson shared a similar concern with Flynn relating to traffic and density. Commissioner Chuck Treatch said he was concerned about the project not being soft enough, as well as the proposed 83 percent density and elevation of the site. Commissioner Hodgkin spoke positively about the project, noting that the commission had approved a larger footprint for a project in the general vicinity in the past. Chair Ed Steinbeck agreed and said that density is vital to make the project viable.

Representatives were on-hand from the SLO County Housing Trust Fund, as well as the Housing Authority of SLO County, to support the project and address what they called some of the misconceptions about affordable housing.

Jerry Rioux, the Trust Fund’s executive director, said that there’s a misconception about traffic impacts since traffic engineers don’t factor in gas prices. Traffic will be impacted, but not as much as indicated, he said. He said the project would provide affordable rental housing for people living and working in Paso Robles.

The project’s greenbelt would be situated around the center of the site. The site would include programs offered to youth and adults, Jess said.

“It’s going to be a more holistic view of how to provide this kind of housing,” he said.

A manager will be located on-site to help manage and provide extra security at Hidden Creek Village, Jess said.

The project is operating has a $1.2 million shortfall, and the Housing Authority may be approaching the city and county for money in the future to overcome it, city officials said. In addition, city staff said that the applicant is gearing up to meet with the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee for funding and that it’s not uncommon to not see all of the financing together at this point.

The council is slated to consider final approval of the project in January of 2009.

Other items on the agenda

* The commission approved a request to establish a motorcycle repair shop, “Mid-State Cycles,” and ancillary services selling parts and clothing at 1324 Vendels Circle. The new shop will specialize in the repair and service of Harley Davidson motorcyles.

* The commission voted to delay consideration of a request to construct a new Jack in the Box drive-through off Golden Hill Road until Tuesday, Nov. 25. At Tuesday’s meeting, there were some concerns expressed by the applicant on a proposed condition.

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