To encourage housing development, the city of Half Moon Bay is considering updating existing rules that can be modified to entice developers to build projects at a variety of affordability levels. 

Earlier this year, the Half Moon Bay City Council said its top priority is addressing a critical housing crisis. To work toward that goal, the city is joining several jurisdictions updating outdated codes to support more housing development.

“We are looking at ways to make the ordinances we have become more effective,” said Community Development Director Jill Ekas. 

At the July 23 Planning Commission meeting, several recommendations from staff were presented, including expanding the scope of the below-market rate ordinance, reducing certain parking requirements, allowing residential uses in the downtown area, and protecting sites zoned for duplex and triplex development. 

Half Moon Bay already has a below-market rate and density bonus ordinance, but now the Planning Commission is considering changing them to better align with the city’s need for more affordable units at the low and very low income level. 

The below-market rate ordinance requires developers to include a certain level of affordable housing, whereas a density bonus offers incentives for developers to include even more housing. 

Currently, the city’s below-market rate ordinance is limited to projects of 10 or more units that are residential subdivisions or condominiums. What is being proposed by city staff is to lower the threshold to projects of five or more units and apply to any housing project, including rentals. 

“This is partly because in Half Moon Bay we do not usually get projects with 10 or more units,” Ekas said. 

Staff is also looking to clarify the ordinance to conform to state law, which changed in 2017 to require all below- market-rate ordinances to apply to rental projects. 

The city’s density ordinance was last amended in 2010, but since then state law has changed. Certain recommendations from staff to the Planning Commission involve conforming with the changes outlined by the state, including requiring affordability be maintained for 55 years versus 30. 

Several planning commissioners were hesitant to allow a density bonus permitting rental units to be converted to ownership. 

“I am in favor of keeping rental units, rentals,” said Commissioner Sara Polger.

“We do not have enough rental housing and so we want to keep what we have,” Ekas said. 

Other ways the city is trying to modernize zoning requirements is by reassessing parking standards in mixed-use zoning districts. 

“Right now, we require two spaces of parking per unit no matter how big the unit is. And the spaces have to be garage parking,” Ekas said. “The physical form of a garage can work for some spaces, but it can also not be ideal for certain projects.” 

Ekas noted that unlike other cities in the county, Half Moon Bay is not located near any mass transit options, and so as the city looks at changing parking requirements it needs to be careful to adjust the code appropriate to the area. 

“We do not want to under park it, but at the same time we want to facilitate development,” Ekas said. 

Planning Commissioner Jimmy Benjamin cautioned against acting too quickly without fully understanding the need for parking. 

“Unless we go through a significant change in the use of the automobile, we are still going to have a demand for parking,” Benjamin said. 

City staff is currently studying the use of parking spots in the downtown area during peak traffic times. Additionally, the city is trying to maintain certain residential zones flagged as areas prime for duplexes and triplexes rather than single-family homes. 

Still in the early stages, Ekas said the process of changing zoning involves the Planning Commission recommending zoning amendments and with the City Council voting to adopt them. Then the California Coastal Commission certifies the changes. 

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