Council and supporters called the development proposal “innovative”

Calling it an innovative project that helps address the shortage of affordable homes, the Milpitas City Council has signaled its support for the construction of 38 new homes that will include four priced below-market rate and 10 studio-style granny units.

If it is ultimately approved, the project from San Jose-based developer Robson Homes would be built on a nearly 5-acre plot in the city’s northeastern end.

The four affordable homes would be smaller, and made up of two “duet”-style homes, similar to duplexes, while the other 34 single-family homes would be larger, four-bedroom homes priced at market-rate, city staff said.

While the city’s affordable housing ordinance requires developers who want to build at least 10 units of housing to make 15 percent of them affordable to very low, low, or moderate-income households, Mark Robson, the developer, had asked the council to grant him a special exception from those rules.

At the Tuesday council meeting, he asked the council to allow him to pay in-lieu affordable housing fees to the city instead of building the affordable units into the project, and his company would build a total of 36 market-rate homes, a route city staff had recommended the council support.

The council pushed back in part, however, instead saying they would support the project if Robson built four affordable homes into the project site, which would be located on a 4.88-acre plot of land at 1005 North Park Victoria Drive.

Robson also would need to pay some in-lieu fees to account for a required fifth affordable home that wouldn’t be built, city staff said, though the exact amount of those fees hasn’t been determined yet.

Because the council expressed support for an option that changes the project design slightly, city staff said the development’s environmental impact review will need to be revised, and the Planning Commission will need to consider the project again before it comes back to the council for possible approval at a future meeting.

“I think what you have is a plan that is innovative,” Councilman Bob Nuñez said at the meeting about the project.

“I think putting the (accessory dwelling units) on at the very onset of building those homes is unique, and if we can get affordable housing built at the same time, which is something we have not been able to do, and some dollars, I think…that’s best for the city,” he said.

The market-rate homes would be two stories, with four bedrooms, and range in size from 2,500 to 2,900 square feet, according to city staff reports. The granny units would be about 485 square feet in size, located above detached two-car garages of the single-family homes.

Robson said the four smaller, affordable homes would each be roughly 1,600 square feet.

While the council partially rebuffed Robson’s request for an affordable housing exception, they indicated they would be OK granting a range of other amendments to allow the project to go forward, including a general plan amendment to increase the allowable density from 3 to 5 homes per acre to 6 to 15 homes per acre.

The project also would need a zoning amendment to reduce the required minimum lot size on that property from 6,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet, allowing Robson to fit in more homes, and a special permit to decrease the required setbacks from the streets.

A handful of residents said they opposed the development, mostly because they worried it’s too dense a project in an area where traffic can already be clogged at during commute hours.

“With this many units, it is going to be more traffic and also a safety issue,” Farhat Hussain, who lives across the street from the proposed project site, told the council.

Frank Evans, who also lives one street over from the site, said the council should not change the zoning to allow for more homes there.

“Leave it as is. Let Mr. Robson cope with the zoning as it exists,” Evans said.

But others expressed support for the plans, including Huascar Castro, a policy associate with [email protected], an organization that advocates for more affordable housing in Silicon Valley.

“We see this as kind of a new, innovative solution towards providing different levels of density in single-family districts,” Castro said of the project that includes a mix of granny units.

Though the city staff reports suggest the smaller studio-style granny units will be “affordable-by-design,” the reports clarify those units only “have the potential to be affordable to renters,” as there won’t be any restrictions on the rental pricing for them.

In August, the council granted an exception to another developer, San Ramon-based True Life Companies, which is planning to build 40 condominiums in the city, allowing the company to instead pay in-lieu fees instead of building six affordable condos in the project as long the developer paid more than the minimum required, and also chipped in more toward public art fees. No final agreement, however, has been reached.

By: Joseph Geha, Bay Area News Group. November 6, 2019

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Mercury News: