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City poised to update Housing Element

The city is poised to update its Housing Element of the Ceres General Plan which will outline policies for balanced housing needs in Ceres.

In preparation for the update the Ceres Planning Commission approved two Zoning Ordinance text amendments on Monday, Dec. 15.

In 2012 the city adopted the 2009-14 Housing Element, identifying local housing needs, stating the community's housing goals and objectives with regards to housing production and housing rehabilitation. It also defined the policies and programs to accomplish those goals.

The first amendment spells out the criteria for a second dwelling unit on the same parcel. The change states that the city's goal is to "promote the development of second units in appropriate locations to increase the availability of affordable housing."

In 1982 the state enacted its "second-unit law" which was designed to encourage cities and counties to promote the building of in-law apartments, granny flats, or accessory apartments to help ease rental housing deficits, maximize limited land resources and existing infrastructure, and assist low and moderate-income homeowners with supplemental income.

The city has allowed secondary units on a single parcel - given that it meets certain criteria - but never had its own ordinance to regulate second-units. Instead city planners always relied on the state's standards.
Property owners may add a second unit provided that it:
• Rented but not sold;

• Is on residentially zoned land;

• Is for a lot that already contains an existing single-family dwelling;

• Is either attached to the existing house and located within the living area of the existing dwelling, or detached from the existing dwelling and located on the same lot;

• Does not exceed 30 percent of the existing living area;

• Is not larger than 1,200 square feet;

• One parking space is available for the second unit;

• Meets all requirements relating to height, setback, lot coverage, architectural review, site plan review, fees, charges, and other zoning requirements;

• Complies with local building code requirements which apply to detached dwellings, as appropriate.

The second amendment deals with the city's existing density bonus ordinance.

While nobody has taken advantage of them, developers of apartments and other types of multi-family residential projects are entitled to a density bonus of up to 35 percent over the maximum density allowed by the General Plan, and at least one other specified incentive, for qualifying projects when they build 10 percent of residential projects for lower-income families or five percent for very-low-income residents or half designated for senior citizens.

Director of Community Development Tom Westbrook said in the 14 years he has worked for the city, no developer has taken advantage of density bonuses.

"Generally they've used other mechanisms to achieve their ‘affordability'," said Westbrook.

Both amendments comply with state law, said Planner James Michaels.

Westbrook said the two amendments were fallout from the state's approval of the Housing Element and more will be coming at the commission's meeting of Jan. 20. Westbrook said the amendments must be completed before the city may update the Housing Element. The next Housing Element will be for the years 2015 to 2023.

"It's moving from a four-and-a-half to five-year cycle to an eight-year cycle so it's very important for the city to get these updates in place so that we can have a certified Housing Element by December of 2015," Westbrook told the commissioners.

Missing the deadline means the city would not be able to take the less labor intensive and less costly route of updating every eight years.