Marin County adopts state-mandated plan to build 5.2K homes

Supervisors pass draft housing element against advice of planners

Marin County

Marin County (Getty)

Marin County has adopted a state-mandated plan to build nearly 5,200 homes in the next eight years against the advice of public planners.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a draft housing element plan to rezone unincorporated areas for the homes on 148 sites, the Marin Independent Journal reported

The number of proposed new homes exceeds a state mandate to find room for 3,569 units, in case some of the homes aren’t built.

Nearly 1,300 of the homes could result from a state density bonus law that allows developers to exceed zoning limits if they include a threshold of affordable homes for low-income households.

The supervisors approved the housing element without the support of the Marin County Planning Commission. It must be approved by state housing regulators by Jan. 31.

“On Jan. 5, the Planning Commission met and recommended that the board not adopt the draft housing element,” Leelee Thomas, deputy director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, told supervisors.

“The role of the Planning Commission is to address planning issues,” Thomas added. “However, the need for housing is more than a planning issue. You are balancing different needs and issues as well as planning issues.”

Under state law, areas designated for affordable housing must be zoned for a minimum density of 20 homes per acre, but the housing element changes the zoning to a minimum density of 30 homes per acre on some parcels.

This potential for even more development than planned for in the housing element was one of the concerns expressed by the Planning Commission. The commission also objected to the removal of density limits in baylands and ridge and upland greenbelt corridors.

During a seven-hour public meeting leading to the element’s approval, the supervisors didn’t discuss a list of reservations by the commission.

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All of the housing element sites can be developed with “ministerial review,” which means they won’t be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act or review by locally elected officials.

The only requirement developers will face, beyond very basic safety and environmental regulations, is conformance with a new “form-based” code adopted by the supervisors. The code will, in some cases, require developers to fit apartments into smaller buildings.

Developers will be able to bypass the code if they can demonstrate that compliance with design standards would render their projects financially unfeasible.

The supervisors also approved a safety element and environmental impact report for the list of housing sites. The environmental study looked only at the cumulative impacts of developing all of the sites, and not specific limitations of each site.

The study identified 15 significant and unavoidable impacts, including negative effects on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, transportation, visual character, water supply and wastewater treatment, noise and tribal resources.

The supervisors legally certified the study, without adopting alternative measures, by making a “statement of overriding considerations.”

Many from faith communities expressed their support for the housing plan. Some residents objected to the environmental study’s finding that the impact on schools would be less than significant.

Others questioned why the study, or the safety element, failed to ensure that residents would be able to safely evacuate in case of a wildfire. A countywide fire evacuation study won’t be completed until next year, according to the newspaper.

— Dana Bartholomew

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