The Half Moon Bay City Council last week voted to approve 16 new building applications for residences outside of the downtown district, a move that drew debate about the need for affordable housing and the city’s responsibility to provide it.

In 1999, the city’s voters approved a growth-control measure, known as Measure D, that capped the annual growth rate at no more than 1.5 percent. As a result, developers need certificates from the city to build new residential spaces, accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units. Half a percent of the allowable growth is for new units outside of downtown, another half a percent is for inside downtown. The city can grant another half a percent to downtown development as a “bonus” allocation.

However, the city’s “town center,” designated by its Land Use Plan, does not line up completely with the Measure D map, which was approved by voters in 1999. It covers more territory than the Measure D map by including properties from Metzgar and Myrtle streets in between Highway 1 and Main Street.

The 10 newly approved units are within the town center but outside of the Measure D area. They include a mix of ADUs, a duplex with ADUs and a junior ADU. The other six units are for ADUs outside of the town center and Measure D area.

Part of the condition for approving the 16 units is that City Council discusses deed-restricted affordable housing requirements at a joint session with the Planning Commission on Tuesday. That meeting occurred after the Review’s print deadline.

The city is prioritizing development in the town center, which encompasses most of the land east of Highway 1 and south of Highland Avenue. In September, the City Council had the option to approve all 20 of the available allocations but only transferred four deed-restricted low-income units. During last week’s meeting, the City Council heard from five people who applied for new ADUs. All stated that their proposal was primarily for housing family members.

Community Development Director Jill Ekas said that while ADUs aren’t always the most affordable option for residents, they still provide a convenient option that doesn’t significantly take up city resources or add congestion.

“They don’t solve the city’s housing needs, but they soften the need without consuming public resources and infrastructure,” Ekas said.

Local contractor Tim Pond said he worked on five of the applications and that these accessory dwelling units are for people in need of housing currently or for their children to move into eventually.

“It’s rare when direct action by a government could help somebody so much as it could at this moment to approve these,” said Pond. “These people need this housing.”

Poplar Street resident Keith Weiner said he intends the new ADU to be for multigenerational housing for his 88-year-old father-in-law and then his sons when they graduate college.

“This is not a money-making proposition for us,” said Weiner. “The ADU is to provide multigenerational housing for our family. There’s no box on the application to express that.”

The meeting sparked a conversation about whether the council should approve more homes without requiring restrictions on the deeds assuring they will be low-income or very-low-incoming units. Councilmember Deborah Penrose said she understood the desire to keep family close but did not want to approve the six units outside of the town center unless they were earmarked as affordable.

“We need to increase housing for those people that currently can’t afford it,” she said. “This is one way to do that.”

Councilmember Joaquin Jimenez said he was not against allowing residents to build on their property to accommodate family members but stated the city could do more to provide cheaper housing.

“I understand it’s a difficult decision, but if you’re not planning to make any money, make it deed-restricted,” he said.

But some homeowners said the process to deed-restrict their property can be cumbersome. Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock opted to transfer all 16 because she did not want to “hold people hostage” by making them limit their property rights.

“I’m not going to add to their family stress by insisting they go through this deed restriction process,” she said.

Because unused allocations can create a bottleneck at the start of the calendar year, the city is examining how it could change its policies to “bank” allocations for below-market-rate housing development.

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

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