Massive apartment plans for Newhall fall through 

This composite photo shows two properties. The one on the left is at the corner of Fambrough Street and Ebelden Avenue in Newhall, and on the right is Newhall Avenue and Highway 14. Santa Clarita City Hall has received applications for both properties that would put hundreds of apartment units there. (left) Perry Smith/ (right) Dan Watson
This composite photo shows two properties. The one on the left is at the corner of Fambrough Street and Ebelden Avenue in Newhall, and on the right is Newhall Avenue and Highway 14. Santa Clarita City Hall has received applications for both properties that would put hundreds of apartment units there. (left) Perry Smith/ (right) Dan Watson
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Time has run out for a massive housing plan that would have added more than 2,000 apartments to the city of Santa Clarita’s housing supply against the city’s wishes, officials announced this week, with one official calling the failed submission “a win.” 

The plans?  

A 17.6-acre development south of Newhall Avenue at Sierra Highway for 1,020 units; one just north of Newhall Avenue, also along Highway 14, which called for a six-story residential tower and 106 units per floor, with about 630 units; and a project just northwest of Fambrough Street and Ebelden Avenue — about a half-mile east of The Old Road — which would have put 1,120 apartment units on about 17 acres. 

A preliminary application for the project was proposed in order to take advantage of what’s known as a “builder’s remedy” in Senate Bill 330, according to city officials, which allowed the pre-application to be submitted for a number of apartments that would normally far exceed the city’s housing-density allowance, while the city awaited state approval of its housing plan. 

“The state requires all cities to update their housing element every eight years. The housing element is a chapter of the city’s general plan,” according to an email from Jason Crawford, director of community development for the city. “As part of that, the state requires that cities show they have the zoning capacity to accommodate a specific number of new houses across a set of affordability categories. The state also tells the cities what that number of new houses they have to plan for is.” 

The city had been working for months on completing its housing plan after a lengthy back-and-forth with state officials in the Department of Housing and Community Development. 

The city was vulnerable to such a project while it was awaiting approval, which was announced during the City Council’s Aug. 22 meeting. However, on Aug. 18, a Beverly Hills-based applicant, the Sotto Capital Group, submitted nine total pre-applications comprising the projects mentioned above.  

However, the law states the developer is required to follow up on the pre-application within six months of its initial filing with the city, and that didn’t happen as of Feb. 14, officials said Monday. 

“Any new application for a project would need to fully comply with the city’s zoning and General Plan guidelines,” Crawford wrote in an email Tuesday. 

The logic behind bills like SB 330, according to the Legistatve Analyst’s Office, is that local governments’ approval process represent an obstacle to the state meeting its housing goals

But city officials have repeatedly said the state laws have taken away their ability to have control over what kinds of projects are approved. 

A representative for the Sotto Capital Group did not respond to a request for comment. 

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth called the project “an extreme example” of how lawmakers  in the state capital have wrested local control from cities in an attempt to solve the housing crisis. He said this project’s failure doesn’t mean the city can breathe a sigh of relief. 

Back in October, while the city was considering the approval of a soundstage project that residents had expressed concerns about, Smyth mentioned projects like the ones proposed for Fambrough Street and Sierra Highway as the worst-case alternative. 

“This is the first time we have seen a proposal for this property that hasn’t included a significant number of housing units,” Smyth said, referring to the Shadowbox Studios project that was approved for the entrance to Placerita Canyon, “and given the continual consolidation of land-use decisions by the state, it’s critical the city has final say where the community has the ability to provide input.”  

For the city’s housing element in its state-approved plan, Santa Clarita has a target of just over 10,000 housing units for the period of 2021-2029, according to the city.  

The city currently has 22,500 apartment units, according to its Planning Division.  

“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 a previous email. “We have to show that there are properties in the city that are zoned to allow for that number of units.” 

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, he added. He also said the city has no control over  “when property owners or developers propose projects; how many units they propose; nor even once those projects are entitled/approved, when they are built.” 

Similar questions came up over local control when an affordable-housing development was proposed to the city on the site of a previous community center in Canyon Country, near Flying Tiger Drive and Sierra Highway. 

There, a San Diego developer is proposing a 128-unit development with 100% affordable housing. 

Senior Planner Dave Peterson said during a briefing on the project that if the City Council wanted to submit the project to a review process, it could find itself in violation of the 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.”  

Smyth said despite the Fambrough and Sierra Highway projects falling through, his concerns over the trend with how state law and local control remain.  

“My concern is the Legislature is going to continue to look at ways to consolidate land use control within the state,” Smyth said in a phone interview Tuesday, “and that’s something that all cities need to be concerned with.”  

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