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Code change to allow housing on commercial properties

Thursday, October 27, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

A code change that would allow housing on commercial properties got an initial hearing at the Planning Commission Tuesday. After some discussion, the commission postponed the item until Nov. 8 amid concern over a recommendation by city staffers to not allow housing near highways.

City Council initiated the code change almost a year ago as a response to the city’s housing crisis. The ordinance, if approved by Council in the coming months, would allow housing on 7,474 additional properties, potentially increasing the city’s housing capacity by 46,324 units

The code change would allow housing on properties zoned Commercial Liquor Sales (CS-1), General Commercial Services (CS), Community Commercial (GR), Neighborhood Commercial (LR), General Office (GO) and Limited Office (LO). Site development standards like building height and floor area ratio would remain the same. Existing commercial uses would still be allowed. 

To build housing, developers would have to set aside 10 percent of the units as affordable, with rental units priced for those making 60 percent of the area median family income and ownership units priced at 80 percent MFI.

City staffers recommend approval of the policy with a few changes:

  • prohibiting housing on commercial properties within 500 feet of highways or noxious industrial uses
  • requiring developers to reincorporate existing cultural spaces into new development
  • prohibiting a fee in lieu of on-site affordable housing

Commissioners expressed confusion over the proposed highway buffer since staffers regularly recommend zoning changes that allow homes near highways. Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson pointed to several recent examples, including a rezoning for Cady Lofts, a project for formerly homeless people.

“Those are all within 500 feet of a highway,” Thompson said. “I’ve never heard anybody complain from the city that we shouldn’t allow any of those.” 

Erica Leak with the Housing and Planning Department responded, “I don’t think there’s a set policy yet, but I think we’re wanting to be really clear about those health impacts.”

Staffers cited research showing that people who live near highways have a higher risk of health problems due to air pollution. There are 1,809 commercial properties within 500 feet of a highway, according to staffers. 

Commissioners decided they needed more time to digest staffers’ suggestions before forming their own recommendation. The commission voted 7-2-1 to postpone discussion to their next meeting on Nov. 8. Commissioners Carmen Llanes Pulido and Jennifer Mushtaler voted against and Grayson Cox abstained.

At the next meeting, the commission is set to discuss other big-ticket items including the Brodie Oaks PUD, the Project Connect eTOD policy framework, and a proposed ordinance reducing compatibility and parking requirements along major streets. Given the hefty agenda, the commission will likely call a special meeting on Nov. 29 to take up any leftover items from the Nov. 8 meeting.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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