Feb. 19, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai City Council is meeting with the Planning Commission tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss how the city will go about proving that it can accommodate 177 new units of affordable housing.
The Council begrudgingly adopted the state-mandated 2006-2014 Housing Element last October in a 3-to-2 vote, and now, the Council must decide which local properties are appropriate for this type of potential development.
“Under laws of the state, Ojai is required to identify sites that can accommodate a proportionate share of anticipated statewide growth,” according to city staff documents. “Furthermore, to the extent that the needs of low- and moderate-income persons cannot be satisfied through means other than new construction, the city must accommodate these needs through the rezoning of a sufficient number of sites with a minimum density of 20 dwellings per acre.”
“When the Element was first being drafted, in ’08 or ’09, staff and a consultant started with about 100 potential sites, then narrowed that down to about 35 sites,” explained community development director Rob Mullane. “At that point, a special housing element task force became involved, and they narrowed it down to 23 possible sites, and that became the official list.
The list of 23 sites, which is posted on the city’s website, includes several properties owned by the city itself, along with a cluster owned by the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, one property owned by the Ojai Unified School District in the northwest portion of the Chaparral High School/district office grounds and a property owned by the Carty family on Maricopa Highway.
Because tonight’s discussions are designated public workshops — as opposed to public hearings — staff is not required to notify every property owner on the list of 23 potential sites. Despite this, Mullane believes prior staff members notified most of the owners when the Housing Element was originally being drafted. Mullane believes most of the applicable property owners or agencies reside in Ojai, and a number of them “have come in to the office,” and have been conferring with staff.
“We’re doing a fair amount of outreach to owners,” said Mullane. “We will be sending a notice of public hearing to all property owners.”
So far, property owners seem receptive to being candidates for a zoning overlay, Mullane said.
“When the housing overlay is applied, it provides the opportunity — not the obligation — to do a housing project. The option of residential development is maybe something owners are interested in, (because) it has some economic incentive,” Mullane clarified.
What happens if the city extends that opportunity to a property owner via the zoning overlay, but does not necessarily want a large affordable housing project immediately? “Once the overlay is applied, we wouldn’t be in a position to deny the project, unless it is designed in such a way that is way out of whack with city design standards,” Mullane elucidated. That’s why city officials are urging locals to attend tonight’s meeting to share their opinions on the 23 sites.
Also at tonight’s meeting, attendees and city officials will hear a presentation of a concept proposed by the Carty family for their property on Maricopa Highway, across the street from Nordhoff High School. At just over 14 acres, it is the largest single parcel on the list of 23 possible overlay sites.
“We have gotten several letters from residents opposing development on site four, the Carty family property,” said Mullane. “One reason we have gotten letters is because the applicant opted to notify their neighbors of the concept review, which is something we recommend, but don’t require for concept reviews. This allows for feedback and public input, increased awareness.”
The concerns raised by residents regarding the Carty family property range from an impeded view-shed to an ever-decreasing amount of open space within the city limits.
The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy has approached the Carty family more than once, seeking to protect the lack of development on that parcel. The OVLC recently rehabilitated the Ojai Meadows Preserve, a parcel across the highway from the Carty site.
“The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy works with willing landowners on a voluntary basis to discuss and pursue mutually-desired open space conservation options. We have reached out to the Cartys periodically over the years with an offer to explore potential open space options for their property, but nothing has come to pass,” explained OVLC executive director Greg Gamble.
In a letter addressed to Mayor Paul Blatz and City Manager Rob Clark, Gamble said, “In a nutshell, we would like to see as much of the Carty property as the city deems feasible maintained as open space. We think that use of a portion of the property for higher density housing to help the City meet the Housing Element requirements would be a compromise worth considering, but we would prefer to see any development take place away from Highway 33.”
“I think it is an important discussion,” said Mullane. The Carty property “is the biggest site in the city, and impacts the number of properties needed (for the overlay).” But ultimately, the City Council members will decide which combination of the 23 properties will be granted the affordable housing zoning overlay.
Council and the Planning Commission meet 6 p.m. tonight at 401 S. Ventura St. in Ojai. The regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting will follow. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information and the meeting’s agenda.