The Santa Clarita City Council’s Development Committee discussed Thursday a 128-unit, 100% affordable housing complex that doesn’t quite meet the city’s usual code requirements but will be approved due to state laws prioritizing the housing crisis over local control.
The presentation by city staff was to keep the committee — Mayor Jason Gibbs and Councilwoman Laurene Weste — apprised that permits have been sought for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment project at Flying Tiger Drive and Sierra Highway, according to Senior Planner Dave Peterson.
While the applicant’s projects didn’t meet some of the city’s standard specifications, relatively new laws and regulations meant to address the state’s housing crisis leave little oversight for Santa Clarita’s planners
In fact, Peterson said during the briefing that having the city’s Planning Commission review such a development would violate state law.
“If this was not an affordable housing project, or if these laws did not apply, it would be subject to review by the Planning Commission as a conditional use permit,” Peterson said. “But in this case, the state law prohibits the review and approval by the Planning Commission. So, it’s not reviewed by them and not by the City Council.”
CRP Affordable Housing, the project’s developer, did not respond to a request for comment on the project as of this story’s publication. The company has offices in San Diego and New York, according to its website, which notes the developer also has announced more than 240 other low-income housing units this year in Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose.
The Canyon Country development is slated for land next to the retail center previously used by the city as a Canyon Country community center before the current one was built.
The development is expected to have 20% of its units for very low income, which is defined as people making 15% to 50% of the average median income, and 80% or 102 units for those making 50% to 80% of the AMI, which is listed as being approximately $42,400 according to 2021 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The project’s density is the first exception, as the commercial zone allows for 18 units per acre, meaning the 4-acre site would normally qualify for roughly 71 units. However, the state’s housing law allows for an up to 80% density bonus, which is how 128 units are being approved.
The building will also receive the following waivers, according to Peterson’s report: a reduction in the required amount of parking; a waiver for the height of the building, which will reach 52 feet at its highest point; and the requirement of 250 cubic feet of lockable enclosed space (personal storage).
“So there’s no storage for any of the apartments and there’s no place for the children to play,” said Councilwoman Laurene Weste, after hearing the project offers about one-third less space than the city usually asks for during Peterson’s report. At several points, she asked questions about the project’s planned aesthetics in comparison to city codes.
The city’s concessions included the elimination of the requirement for a CUP, which would require a Planning Commission hearing; a reduction in the amount of common outdoor space the city typically requires; a reduction of the amount of private outdoor space required (like a patio); and replacing a masonry wall with a wrought-iron fence.
“What they do is they basically propose these things to us, and the city is not really in a position where we get to say no,” Peterson said. “That is specifically because of the state law that allows for concessions and waivers to all of the codes for affordable housing.”
City Manager Ken Striplin pointed out the applicant didn’t take full advantage of some of the waivers that could have been applied for, and at one point Peterson said if the homes were just a little bit closer to the Via Princessa Metrolink Station, it could have applied for a complete waiver of its need to provide parking.
The state mandate for housing is laid out by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which approved a Regional Housing Needs Allocation for California cities in January 2022, according to the agency’s website. It determines how much of what type of housing, i.e. very low-income, low-income, moderate-income and market-rate housing, is required to be permissible by a city’s zoning regulations.
The project meets about 1% of the city’s very low-income housing goal as the city also gets a bonus toward its total because the property wasn’t initially recognized in the state’s assessment of the available land. There’s a total of more than 10,000 units identified in the city’s RHNA allocation, which includes more than 3,200 market-rate homes as well as nearly 3,400 very low-income units.
Jason Crawford, director of community development for the city of Santa Clarita, explained the tally and tracking of the numbers in an email. He also said the city currently has zoning that meets the state’s requirements in its various categories without having to rezone any of its area.
“For the housing element, the 10,031 total housing allocation target is the number of housing units, inclusive of the different affordability categories, that the city has to show there is zoned capacity throughout to be entitled,” Crawford wrote in an email. “We have to show that there are properties in the city that are zoned to allow for that number of units.
“And then on an annual basis the city reports to the state the number of units in each affordability category that have been built the previous year.”
Crawford also said the city does not have a say in when property owners or developers propose projects, how many units they propose, nor even once those projects are entitled/approved, when they are built.
The homes would count toward the city’s RHNA allocation once they’re constructed, Crawford added.
The city permits are expected to be approved by July, but the city has been given no indication for when construction would begin, according to officials.