Small parcels key to Kings Beach housing | SierraSun.com

Small parcels key to Kings Beach housing

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Courtesy illustration/Sierra SunA preliminary site map shows the locations of Domus Development's proposed affordable housing projects in the Kings Beach Grid. Domus has control of six donated and purchased parcels, some vacant and some occupied.

Affordable housing developer Domus Development is taking a fresh approach to low-cost housing in Kings Beach.

Rather than constructing a single, large complex like other affordable developments proposed and built in Truckee and North Tahoe, Domus President Meea Kang proposed building affordable units on a handful of properties scattered throughout the Kings Beach “Grid.”

Kang said infill redevelopment on multiple sites is a solution to replace the community’s substandard housing.

“The reality is that for Kings Beach, that’s the only solution,” Kang said in a phone interview.

To make affordable housing economically feasible, developers rely on building more units. Consequently, many affordable complexes are built on plots of land large enough for the needed number of units.

Since Kings Beach does not have any large undeveloped properties, Domus decided to build on several, smaller parcels.

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The Bay Area-based company plans to redevelop six parcels, both vacant and occupied, that currently house more than 130 people in 32 units, Kang said.

Domus intends to build more than 100 affordable units on the same properties, enough room for 300 residents, she said.

“It’s a really exciting concept that they’re bringing forth,” President Breeze Cross of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe told Placer County supervisors at their meeting Tuesday in Kings Beach. “It’s something that, if we could get this right, it really could become a model for future development of housing.”

Domus is applying to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Community Enhancement Program, which asks developers to submit innovative concepts that meet community wishes.

The Placer supervisors endorsed Domus’ pre-application to the program. The program is a vehicle that could allow Kang’s project to set a precedent for housing regulations throughout the Tahoe Basin, said WHATT Board Director George Koster. Kang agreed.

“It makes it easier for people to think out of the box,” Kang said.

“So really, at the end of the day, what we’re hoping to achieve is amendments that will give development incentives for affordable housing across the Basin,” Kang added. “That’s the whole intent for this. It’s not going to be for Kings Beach only. We’re hoping this is going to help basinwide.”

If accepted into the program, Kang said she hoped to receive entitlements next year and potentially begin construction in 2009.

Though infill development is a growing trend, building on multiple properties has its challenges, Kang explained, saying she has experience rehabilitating more than 1,500 affordable units over the past 12 years.

Each site has different characteristics in terms of drainage systems or environmental best management practices, she said. And land is more expensive with several smaller sites rather than one larger parcel, Kang said. Domus is planning the project on both donated and purchased parcels.

“I think that conceptually it’s an excellent project because it is a true infill project that will remove blighted structures,” said Alex Mourelatos, who has proposed building an affordable housing development, Vista Village, in Tahoe Vista. “I also believe that it’s setting a good precedent in this community of how affordable housing can be built.”

But Mourelatos questioned whether developing scattered lots can be economically feasible because of the cost associated with acquiring the land, the entitlement process and the cost of construction.

“I think her challenges are potentially less regulatory and more financial,” he said.

Even though Tahoe is one of the toughest political and regulatory climates that Kang said she’s worked in, the Bay Area developer said she couldn’t turn away from affordable housing in Kings Beach.

“The need was too critical,” Kang said. “I think that it’s a great community, and [affordable housing] is something that has to happen.”

Domus unveiled the conceptual plan to the community at a Monday night meeting at Kings Beach Elementary. She characterized support for the project as “very, very strong.”

Representing the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance, Paul Vatistas said he supported the project at the Placer supervisors’ meeting.

Others voiced support as well.

“I think it’s a start to what could be happening later on,” said Kings Beach resident Emilio Vaca in a phone interview. “I don’t think it’s the end-all solution to the housing problem. But it’s definitely the start.”