Failure of Measure Z Doesn’t Stop Multifamily Housing

Failure of Measure Z Doesn’t Stop Multifamily Housing

Measure Z, the ordinance that would have eliminated prohibitions against multifamily developments in Alameda, has officially been voted down, according to the certified Alameda County election results.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters office released the final results last week. The final tally revealed 25,063 residents voted against the measure, while 16,749 voted in support. The measure needed a simple majority — one more than 50 percent of the total vote — to pass.

The failing of Measure Z does not prohibit new multifamily housing from being built in Alameda, as evidenced by the Planning Board approving a tentative plan at its Nov. 23 meeting for a two-building, nine-unit condominium development at the intersection of Broadway and Santa Clara (“Developer Plans Condominium-Infill Project Near Broadway and Santa Clara” Dec. 3).

Branagh Land Inc. plans to build the new condominium development — one building will have four units, the other will have five — in the rear of the 1.29-acre site where tennis and basketball courts currently reside. The site already consists of 11 residential buildings — five single-family homes, three duplexes, one triplex and two fourplexes — totaling 22 units.

Branagh Land Inc. can build the new development, even with Article 26 still enacted, because they received a multifamily housing waiver. The company received the waiver, and a host of other waivers, because it qualified for a density bonus.

The property is within the R-5-PD and R-4-PD zoning districts and is designated as Medium Density Residential in the General Plan. Under these designations, developers can build one housing unit per 2,000 square ft., or 21 units per acre, according to the Alameda Municipal Code. Because the property is 1.29 acres, the property can have 28 housing units. However, the developer can qualify for a 25 percent density bonus, or seven units, if Branagh agrees to designate seven percent of the 28 units — two units — for very low-income housing, according to Alameda Municipal Code 30-17.7.

With this density bonus, Branagh can build up to 35 units. The developer plans to have 31 units at the site — the existing 22 units and the proposed nine units.

Once a project is eligible for a density bonus, it is also eligible for “an unlimited number of waivers from development standards that would ‘physically preclude’ the project from developing at the allowed density,” according to Alameda Municipal Code and California state law.

To enable development at the permitted density, the Planning Board granted several different waivers, including the multifamily housing waiver. Other waivers included parking, front and rear yard, open space and more.

The Planning Board can only reject a request for a waiver if the request would result in adverse impacts on health, safety or the physical environment, according to the city staff memorandum.

According to the tentative development plan, Branagh plans to put one of the very low-income housing units in lot nine, an already existing fourplex; and the other in lot 11, an already existing duplex. The new nine units will be sold at market price. This caused Planning Boardmember Rona Rothenberg to question its validity at the meeting.

“You’re putting them in the old buildings, and the new property is going to be at market rate. It makes me question how we aggregate the numbers because it is to the benefit of the development, but not necessarily to the intent of the law, which is that you’re allowed to do it because you’re going to provide a certain amount of housing for very low income,” said Rothenberg.

City Planning and Building Director Andrew Thomas responded by saying it is allowed by the state. “State law doesn’t make a distinction between providing very low-income units in new construction or existing buildings,” said Thomas.

Thomas added that the city likes that that the developer is putting the very low-income housing in the existing properties because it’s “unlike some of the new construction projects where you have to wait for the construction of the project to finish for a family to move in.”

However, using the new buildings for market-rate housing and not affordable housing was a concern of many Measure Z detractors. Measure Z was hailed as an ordinance to help the city provide more affordable housing, but many against Measure Z saw it as an avenue for developers to make more luxury apartments.

Joyce Boyd, a 19-year Alameda resident, spoke about this to the Alameda Sun (“Concerns for Measure Z” Sept. 10).

“I see Article 26 as a firewall,” said Boyd. “It stops unlimited building of luxury apartments. If there are no limits, there will be developers building luxury condos. Look at the housing they’re building. It’s not affordable housing.”

The Planning Board approved the tentative plan 6-1, with Boardmember Ronald Curtis representing the sole dissenting vote. His reason for dissent was not related to the housing waiver.