Almanac

News - November 20, 2013

Portola Valley begins months of meetings on housing

by Dave Boyce

Portola Valley's ongoing conversation on affordable housing restarted at a Nov. 13 joint meeting of the Town Council and the Planning Commission. The meeting kicks off a 10-meeting update to the town's housing element, a state-mandated chapter in a community's general plan to address the supply and affordability of housing.

Updates to housing elements, normally done on an eight-year rotation, must receive state certification. One hundred cities and towns within nine Bay Area counties, and the counties themselves, have until January 2015 to submit updated elements to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

To meet its assigned quota for 2014-22, Portola Valley must show good faith in planning for and encouraging construction of 64 new dwellings, including 13 for above-moderate-income households, 15 each for moderate- and low-income households, and 21 for very-low-incomes.

Among the highlights of the joint meeting, second units (granny cottages) received significant attention; residents tend to prefer them over condominiums. Among ideas aired to encourage more second units: increase the floor-area limit of 750 square feet; consider allowing two units instead of one on large properties; and allow them on smaller properties.

Another idea addressed the topic of condos, an incendiary issue among their potential neighbors. If the Town Council were to consider buying land for condos — as happened in 2012 around a former plant nursery at 900 Portola Road — Planning Commissioner Nate McKitterick suggested the council announce its intentions publicly instead of conducting the entire discussion in closed session, as is the practice for real estate transactions.

The nursery project grew out of an obligation to build eight condos in a subdivision as a condition of the subdivision being built. The parcel proved topographically unsuitable. When the nursery site became available, the council, following past practices, held closed sessions that led to the sale of the parcel and plans to buy the nursery site. The deal fell through over a failed clean-up of contaminated soil, but outraged neighbors alleged secrecy on the part of the council.

"If the people knew that the town was going to do something with (the nursery site), there wouldn't be that debate in a vacuum," Mr. McKitterick said.

Councilwoman Ann Wengert said she agreed that a separate public process was appropriate.

The housing element update will involve nine meetings before the Planning Commission: three on second units, two on housing affiliated with institutions such as Woodside Priory School, two on community preferences, and two on drafting the language. The draft needs council approval before submission to the state.

Go to tinyurl.com/HE646 for more information.

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