Plans for affordable housing advance | October 31, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - October 31, 2012

Plans for affordable housing advance

• Design panel passes ball to Planning Commission.

by Dave Boyce

A brisk wind drove autumn clouds across an unusually deep blue sky around 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 22, while below at the corner of Buck Meadow Drive and Redberry Ridge, a knot of Portola Valley residents, including members of the Architectural & Site Control Commission (ASCC), gathered to consider the fate of an undeveloped 2.5-acre slope and its extensive grove of blue oak trees.

The ASCC had been asked to provide comments to the town's Planning Commission about a proposal by the property owner — the town of Portola Valley — to redraw lot lines for two potential homes, down from eight. When the ASCC reconvened later that evening in the Historic Schoolhouse, none of the five members objected to the redrawn lines. The Planning Commission is set to consider the town's proposal in November.

An out-of-town observer may consider this consensus unremarkable, but there is a back story.

The upscale Blue Oaks subdivision was planned in 1996. To meet a town ordinance requirement that subdivisions set aside 15 percent of lots for affordable housing, this particular property had been intended for eight below-market-rate (BMR) homes. The project languished as its sloping topography, among other factors, worked against a design that would turn a profit for the developer, town officials have said.

The matter is relevant now because the Town Council is trying to comply with a state mandate that requires cities and towns, including those with high property values, to accommodate residents of very low, low and moderate incomes.

In San Mateo County, according the California Department of Housing and Community Development, a moderate income is around $86,500 for an individual and $123,600 for a family of four.

Towns like Portola Valley have used second units (cottages) to meet the low and very-low income categories. Some towns have addressed moderate-income requirements with dense faculty housing on school campuses. But each town's requirement allotment for such housing rises on a seven-year interval, the next beginning in 2014, and the law requires zoning for "a variety of housing types, including multi-family," HCD spokesman Colin Parent told the Almanac.

With the Blue Oaks project long in limbo, the Town Council announced in August a purchase agreement that requires selling the Blue Oaks property for around $3 million and using that money to buy 900 Portola Road, a flat 1.68-acre former nursery, for some number of small, lower-cost houses for people who either live or work in Portola Valley. A first step in this transaction: redrawn lot lines for two homes (instead of eight) to make the Blue Oaks property more salable.

Following the purchase of the nursery site, town officials have said they would engage a developer to come up with a plan. Exactly how many homes — eight, 10, 12, 14 — will be a topic for a "robust community process" to include discussions on the number of homes, the zoning and the design, officials have said.

Single-family homes are a Portola Valley tradition, the only exceptions being The Sequoias retirement community and the faculty housing at the Woodside Priory School, both of which predate the town. Right behind the old nursery sits Wyndham Drive, a circular road with a community of single-family homes, including about 21 households that have formed "Keep PV Rural" to fight the affordable housing project.

"An urban setting would be the result and property values could be affected," the group's website says of the project. In letters to the council and the town's online forum, the group says it is unopposed to affordable housing, but the process has not been "democratic and open" and the state obligation could be met with a "creative approach that emphasizes second units."

Purchase of the nursery site is contingent upon the sale of the Blue Oaks properties for close to $3 million, roughly the asking price for the nursery site. Representatives of the Blue Oaks Homeowners' Association have expressed a preference for one lot that might preserve some or all of it as open space. The town is not opposed in concept to the one-lot idea, Town Manager Nick Pegueros said.

The concept of a $3 million land swap is a problem for Keep PV Rural. "While we appreciate Blue Oaks' desire for more open space — it's a beautiful place up there — we oppose the process that this involves," group spokesman Bud Eisberg told the ASCC at its Oct. 22 evening meeting.


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