Seeking to comply with changes in state law and encourage construction of more affordable housing, Palo Alto is considering revising a local law that gives developers incentives for including below-market-rate units in their projects.
The city's Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to consider Wednesday night, Jan. 9, the city's "density bonus" law, which allows developers to seek concessions and exceed the city's zoning regulations if they agree to provide more affordable housing than the city requires. A proposed ordinance aims to bring the city's law closer to Senate Bill 1818, a 2004 law that increased incentives for affordable housing.
In recent years, the city has been applying the density-bonus law "on an ad hoc basis to both market-rate and affordable developments," Senior Planner Tim Wong wrote in a report. Several recent projects, including the 50-unit affordable-housing development at 801 Alma St. and Harold Hohbach's mixed-use development at 195 Page Mill Road, have requested concessions.
The Alma Street project, which is being developed by Eden Housing, includes concessions that would allow it to encroach into otherwise-required setback space and be built with a greater density that normally allowed.
Hohbach had also requested concessions, including exceeding the density limit, in exchange for providing more affordable-housing units than the city requires.
Under the 2004 state law, developers are allowed to request a maximum of 35 percent density bonus for providing affordable housing, compared to 20 percent before the law was enacted. The law also allowed for a sliding scale of bonuses, depending on the percentage of affordable units provided and a provision of up to three development concessions (these include such things as a smaller setback or a greater height than the city would otherwise allow).
Palo Alto already has its own Below Market Rate (BMR) program, which requires developers to reserve 15 percent of their residential projects for affordable housing. Complying with this law automatically entitles the developer to one concession.
Under the proposed changes to the city law, a developer would be required to fulfill the BMR requirement before receiving density-bonus credit for additional affordable housing. The proposed ordinance would apply to developments with five or more residential units and, like the state law, would allow developers to request a density bonus of up to 35 percent, depending on the number of affordable units and the level of affordability.
The new ordinance would also include a menu of concessions that applicants could review and outline the process developers would have to go through to get bonuses and concessions.
The Planning and Transportation Commission meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.