Novato council may ditch Carmel Hill open space bid
Author: Matthew Pera
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
As affordable housing activists continue to push for more action in Mill Valley, local lawmakers are tweaking regulations they hope will spark affordable developments and monitoring the effectiveness of their efforts.
The Mill Valley City Council adopted an affordable housing ordinance last year in an effort to combat the growing shortage of workforce housing in the area. The laws require 25 percent of homes in new developments with four or more units be rented or sold at “affordable” rates. They also levy a 1 percent fee on construction projects that cost more than $100,000.
The fee — which is set to fund affordable housing initiatives — was put on hold until last month in an effort to give property owners with plans to build or remodel enough notice to fast track their projects if they wanted to save the money.
Many residents with home renovation plans took advantage of that grace period and rushed to get projects approved before the tax kicked in, according to Patrick Kelly, director of the city’s planning and building department.
“There was quite a bit of a backlog getting projects through until the fee came into effect,” Kelly said. “It affects the bottom line, so that’s understandable.”
Critics say the fee could discourage construction in Mill Valley, further exacerbating the affordable housing shortage. But for Kelly, it’s too early to tell whether the community will support the tax and make it an effective tool.
“It’s just out of the gate,” he said.
The fee is expected to raise about $300,000 per year.
“That isn’t a huge sum of money when it comes to creating housing, but it’s a start,” said Stephanie Moulton-Peters, the city’s mayor. “What we need is a start.”
Some residents are concerned Mill Valley is putting the cart before the horse. The city hasn’t yet created its “affordable housing sub-committee,” a group which is tasked with overseeing the money and designating specific uses for it.
Mill Valley officials appointed two City Council members and two planning commissioners to the five-member committee, but the additional member, who is supposed to be a resident, was never chosen. The partial committee has never met.
Officials said the committee formation was delayed amid staff turnover. Kelly took the helm of the planning and building department in September, replacing an interim director who filled the role after the former department head left his post in July 2017.
Moulton-Peters said the City Council is expected to finalize the committee early next year. But Dennis Klein, who leads a residents group that focuses on Mill Valley’s affordable housing situation, fears the city is dawdling on purpose. City officials early this year said they’d get the committee rolling by March.
“It’s always the same thing, dragging their feet,” he said. “If there was a committee they could have action. But they don’t want to do anything. They don’t care.”
For the mayor, it’s about deliberation. Creating affordable housing is a top priority for city officials, she said. But it’s not a simple task.
“We’re putting the conditions in place,” she said. “That may seem like a slow process to some people, but you always have to build your foundation and really get that right.”
The City Council on Monday night hashed out regulations for “junior accessory dwelling units,” or miniature in-law suites that don’t have full kitchens. Council member for years have been working to make regular accessory units easier to build. Moulton-Peters called it an simple, efficient way to create affordable housing.
According to Danielle Staude, Mill Valley’s senior planner, the city saw an uptick in permit requests from homeowners hoping to build in-law units last year, which could be a result of the new regulations. Typically, Staude said, about eight permit requests per year come through City Hall. In 2017, there were 19.
There aren’t any multifamily housing projects in the pipeline for Mill Valley, according to Kelly.
The developer of a 1.2-acre lot on Miller Avenue considered building a 28-unit complex on his site this year, which would have included the required seven affordable units. But after hearing feedback from community members and planning commissioners at a meeting in September, Agustin Maxemin said he scrapped the design. The developer said Monday he’s moving forward with a project that contains nine units for sale at market rate that was approved for that lot before the affordable housing ordinance was adopted.
Maxemin in September said he worried the headache of getting a high-density project approved in Mill Valley might discourage developers from building affordable housing in the city.
But for Klein, affordable housing is a necessity. As a housing crisis continues to swell throughout California, the result, he said, is residents traveling longer distances to get to work in areas where job markets are booming but the cost of housing is out of reach.
Traffic problems will worsen and vehicle emissions will continue exacerbating climate change, he said. His solution is to provide people the opportunity to live where they work and increase access to public transportation.
“Otherwise,” he said, “It’s not going to get any better.”
To read original article posting, click here: https://www.marinij.com/2018/12/04/mill-valley-eager-for-results-as-affordable-housing-initiatives-roll-out/