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South First multifamily project gets Planning Commission support

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

A 260-unit apartment proposal at 6311 S. First St. moved one step closer to construction after the Planning Commission recommended rezoning the vacant site at its Feb. 9 meeting. The new zoning allows the developer to add more units, including nearly 100 income-restricted units, and 1,000 square feet of retail is also proposed.

Though neighbors were concerned about traffic and the project’s lack of deeply affordable units, the commission voted unanimously to recommend adding Vertical Mixed Use (V) zoning to the site, in agreement with city staffers. City Council will soon hold a final vote on the rezoning.

As currently proposed, 5 percent of the units in the five-story building would be priced at 50 percent median family income; 5 percent would be priced at 60 percent MFI; and 25 percent would be affordable at 80 percent MFI, all for at least 40 years. The vertical overlay requires at least 10 percent of units to be affordable at 80 percent MFI.

“We have really stretched this project to offer the deeper affordability that the city needs,” said Leah Bojo, the representative for the applicant. 

A 2019 proposal for the site – which did not need rezoning – included 158 units. None were affordable. 

The number of affordable units aligns with what the neighborhood’s contact team has requested. Mario Cantu, chair of the contact team, said that although the applicant met their demands, he would still like to see units affordable to those at 30 percent MFI. “(The project) doesn’t put the dent into where we need the real, true affordable housing,” Cantu said.

Commissioner Joao Paulo Connolly praised both the neighborhood’s work to get affordable units as well the developer’s proposal. “The fact that the applicant has shown a willingness to come around and comply with the original demands of the neighborhood contact team, for me that’s a positive sign,” said Connolly. “And we are getting good numbers of affordability from this development, so I don’t want to pass this opportunity up at this point.”

Commissioner Awais Azhar asked whether the developer would consider offering affordable units first to people with ties to the neighborhood. This “preference policy,” beyond income restrictions, could include proof of nearby residency – past or present – and targeted marketing in the neighborhood. Bojo said the developer would explore such a policy.

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