Placer wrestles with housing plan
A Placer County plan that would require developments in Martis Valley to house half of their employees may be nearly irrelevant if it is not adopted soon, local officials say.Area housing advocates and the town of Truckee worry that by the time the employee housing ordinance is in place, developers will have approval for projects that don’t include enough employee units or are allowed to defer building those units while subdivisions, recreation centers and golf courses go up around the Martis Valley.”In this part of [Placer] county they are making some of the biggest planning decisions they will ever make, and the ordinance is not complete,” said Rachelle Pellisier, executive director of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe. “The problem is [the ordinance] is still in daft form so they never use it, and they always come up with lower numbers.” Even without an adopted ordinance, Placer County is requiring that each development proposal account for 50 percent of the housing for the employees that are needed to service the development. But in the absence of adopted guidelines, developers and the county are allowed flexibility to determine how many employees will fit into a unit, how many employees the development will generate, and if the site is suitable for employee units.According to the Workforce Housing Association, the difference in these calculations has Placer County calling for 41 fewer employee housing units in the Siller Ranch proposal than the draft ordinance would mandate.Placer County Planning Director Fred Yeager said the Workforce Housing Association’s numbers are based on a certain part of the draft ordinance, while other sections of the ordinance also allow flexibility according to the site and location. Even an adopted ordinance would allow flexible calculations, he said. “Different people could read it and come up with different numbers,” Yeager said.But the bottom line, he said, is that the county is requiring levels of affordable housing that are comparable to the draft ordinance.”Our view is we are not letting anyone skate during this process,” said Yeager, referring to a process that has put the ordinance through five revisions, with the last public meeting on the draft occurring late last year.But a troubling question left unanswered by the draft ordinance, according to Truckee town staff, is how, when and where the employee units will actually be built”They are deferring everything to the development of a plan,” said Truckee Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook. A condition of approval for Hopkins Ranch – the first development approved under the new Martis Valley Community Plan, which is being challenged by several environmental groups – requires that the developer create a housing mitigation plan before the approval of the final map and the issuance of building permits. However, it is unclear when the affordable housing units will actually be built.Affordable and employee housing proposals processed independently of the development could hit opposition, such as the environmental and legal questions that stalled East West Partners’ Sawmill Heights employee housing, which was meant to accommodate employees attracted to the new Northstar Village, said Lashbrook. The 96-unit employee housing project was approved by Placer County in 2001, but litigation has halted construction until at least 2005, while Northstar Village is being built this summer. The Martis Valley could see a similar situation. With projects that propose about 1,200 residential units coming up for a decision as early as this month, developers could begin building subdivisions after their housing mitigation plans are approved, leaving their employee housing projects to make their way back through the planning process and face whatever opposition that might bring.”It would be highly unusual if it did not run into opposition,” said Yeager of the employee housing projects. “That is expected. It is anticipated. We have to plan for that.”But exactly how the county is planning for that is unclear, and whether its efforts will be enough to prevent the creation of hundreds of jobs without any employee housing on the ground is something the town of Truckee is clearly worried about.Yeager said that Placer County may require developers to get approval for their employee housing before they build their projects, but that decision will not be made until the mitigation plans are submitted, he said. If development proposals such as Siller Ranch and Eaglewood, which propose recreation centers and golf courses, are built before employee and affordable housing units go up, the employee housing pressures will land directly on Truckee and the surrounding region.”Its a huge issue,” he said. “It looks to us as if all the major developments will be acted on before [the ordinance] is in place.”The Placer County Planning department said that the two ordinances, one for employee housing and one requiring a percentage of affordable housing in each development, are undergoing economic studies that will be completed within a month. Placer County planners said they hope that the ordinances will be ready for adoption before the end of the summer.Meanwhile Siller Ranch, a 726-unit golf course subdivision, is scheduled to go back to the Placer County Planning Commission on June 24. Eaglewood, a 474-unit golf course development which includes five employee units in its plans, could also be heard by the commission this month.Placer County Supervisor Rex Bloomfield said that the ordinance has been delayed from the previous target date of late last year. But he guaranteed that the employee housing ordinance and an inclusionary affordable housing ordinance for the entire county, will be adopted before the end of the year.”We’ll make sure we have this thing signed, sealed and delivered before December 31,” said Bloomfield.That leaves Truckee and surrounding areas to wonder if that will be quick enough to avert a further affordable housing shortage in the region.”By the time they get [the ordinance] in place, it may not be worth anything,” Lashbrook said.
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Jaime Alessio took this video of a bobcat wandering around Kings Beach in broad daylight.