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Steps taken in quest to update Housing Element
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The Ceres City Council took steps to revamp its Housing Element of the Ceres General Plan which clarifies the city's second residential unit on a single lot policy; and makes changes to the so-called Density Bonus.

During a Jan. 26 public hearing the council approved two ordinances. 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 is designed to encourage cities and counties to promote the building of granny flats, in-law apartments, 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 have always relied on the state's standards.

"We can't just use the state (law) as a default," said Director of Community Development Tom Westbrook. "We have to have our own ordinance so that's why we're creating one."

Property owners may add a second unit provided that it:

• Cannot be sold but may be rented;

• 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 home;

• 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.

"Basically it just allows an opportunity for folks to explore this option," said Westbrook. "Not many people do, the reason being ... they pay Public Facility Fees for that second unit."

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.

Westbrook said the two amendments must be completed before the city may update the Housing Element. The next Housing Element will be for the years 2015 to 2023.

"What the changes to this ordinance - because we've already had it in place for the last 22 years - they're taking some concessions. You used to have to offer 20 percent of the units had to designated for lower income status. They're dropping that to 10 percent."

Under the new changes, a developer can win a 35 percent increase in maximum allowable units. For example, if the Zoning Ordinance suggests that a parcel can hold up to 20 units, it could qualify for seven additional units.

"From a developer's standpoint, that might be attractive to say they can increase the unit count."