Business, City Hall

Citrus Heights Planning Commissioners split over low-income housing proposal

Citrus Heights, planning commission
Citrus Heights Planning Commission members hear comments from a city staff member on Dec. 12, 2018, relating to a low-income housing proposal. // CH Sentinel

Sentinel staff report–
Following a public hearing attended by about 50 people Wednesday night, Citrus Heights Planning Commissioners issued a split vote over a key aspect of a controversial low-income supportive housing project proposed for a 2.3-acre former Christmas tree lot on Sunrise Boulevard, near Oak Avenue.

While commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a site plan and design review permit for the 47-unit project proposed for 7424 Sunrise Blvd., commissioners were split 2-2 over whether to approve a “concession” request from the developer to allow parking within a setback zone closer to adjacent residential homes than city regulations currently allow for. Without the parking concession, the developer says the project would be forced to drop in size to 40 units and the project would become “financially infeasible to build or operate.”

The proposal must still be heard by the full City Council next month for a final vote on whether the project can move forward.

The proposal, called Sunrise Pointe, seeks to provide permanent housing and on-site supportive services for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, those with psychiatric disabilities, and those with very low-income levels of no more than 45 percent of the median income of the area. The development is a joint effort proposed by TLCS, a Sacramento-based nonprofit offering supportive residential services, and developer Jamboree Housing Corporation.

About a dozen people spoke during a public hearing held just prior to the Dec. 12 vote, with residents and community members offering differing reasons to support or oppose the project. Several residents who were most passionately opposed to the proposal said they lived next to the development site and liked the idea of supportive housing, but not next door to their home.

“I am 100 percent for this project, just not in this location,” said resident Zach Mathis, who lives next to the proposed project area and expressed concerns about future privacy and safety with his kids playing is his back yard. “I don’t think a six-foot or eight-foot wall is enough, and to give the concessions to build and put the parking spots closer to my house I think is outrageous.”

Sunrise Pointe, Abels Christmas Tree lot
A map provided in Planning Commission documents shows the proposed project site for a 47-unit low-income housing development at 7424 Sunrise Blvd.

The parking concession requests that the city reduce parking setback requirements to 10 feet from the property boundary in order to allow for parking within the current 20 to 25-foot setback zones on the rear and sides of the property. City Planner Alison Bermudez said the zoning code would have allowed for parking in the setback areas if the project were a commercial development, but since the proposed use is residential housing, a concession is required due to it being a “deviation from a development standard.”

She said state law allows for such a concession to be made for affordable housing projects, which the proposed housing qualifies as, due to rental prices not exceeding 30 percent of tenants’ monthly household income. Qualifying as an affordable housing project also gives the developer access to government funding and tax credits.

Resident Stan Munoz, who also lives adjacent to the project and serves as a board member for the local Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART), spoke in support of the proposal as a way to help house those who may be working but find themselves struggling with high rental costs. His only concern about the project was to request that a proposed eight-foot wall surrounding part of the development also extend to adjacent commercial properties, rather than only next to adjacent homes, in order to avoid concerns about “people jumping the wall.”

As proposed, a six-foot masonry wall would be constructed along boundaries shared with commercial properties and an eight-foot wall would be built along boundaries with adjacent homes.

Michael Lagomarsino, who chairs the Planning Commission, received grumbles from some attendees and fellow Commissioner Jack Duncan after he limited the audience and commissioner comments to addressing only the three aspects of the project being considered by the commission: the site plan, a design review permit, and the concession regarding parking. He said comments on other aspects of the proposal could be brought up at the City Council meeting next month, where he said they have a “wide purview of actions they can take.”

Following the chairman’s directives, resident Paul Bazinsky limited his comments to the concession request regarding parking and told commissioners that city regulations “are in place for a reason” and the request to deviate from existing parking regulations should be denied. He also asked commissioners rhetorically, “If this was going in your backyard — and it is going in my backyard — would you approve that?”

Kathilynn Carpenter, who chairs Citrus Heights HART, also spoke during the public hearing and said her nonprofit was in support of the proposal. She said mental health is a “precursor to homelessness” and lauded any efforts to help prevent homelessness, noting that her organization had partnered with TLCS since 2016.

Commissioners Tim Schaefer and Lagomarsino voted in favor of recommending the City Council approve all three aspects being considered, including the parking setback concession. Commissioners Leah Cox and Duncan voted against the parking concession.

“As public officials, we hear all the time about people complaining about the homeless and this does address it to a certain degree,” said Commissioner Schaefer, prior to voting in favor of the proposal. “While it’s not something I was thrilled about doing, it’s something that I think is necessary.”

Commissioner Duncan said his biggest initial concern about the project was that he “didn’t want to see this turn into a Sayonara,” referring to a problem street with apartments that the city has spent millions to address. But after hearing more about the current proposal, he said “it sounds like TLCS and Jamboree have got their act together.”

Chairman Lagomarsino said he did have some problems with the proposal, but said “the problems do not outweigh the benefits,” noting he was glad to hear it would have a 24-hour manager on-site and a gate to help with security. He said he could understand concerns from adjacent neighbors, but, citing a personal example of problems with a neighbor’s tree, said “that’s one of the things you learn to expect when you live in a residence.”

Commissioner Porsche Middleton abstained from voting on the proposal, stating she would be hearing the full matter in her newly elected role as a City Council member next month. Commissioner Marcel Weiland was not present at the meeting and former Commissioner Russell Blair’s seat was recently vacated after he moved out of state.

City Attorney Ruthann Ziegler told commissioners that because the vote was tied regarding the parking concession, that vote in particular “counts a recommendation against.” However, she said all three matters would still go to the City Council for a final decision on Jan. 10, 2019.

TLCS Executive Director Erin Johansen told The Sentinel she was happy the commission voted in favor of two of the three items related to the project and said she is hopeful the City Council will approve all three aspects of the proposal, including the parking concession, in order for the project to remain “feasible.”

If approved by the City Council next month, TLCS says the site would have a full-time manager who would live in one of the units, as well as a part-time staff member to help provide supportive services like after-school programs for tenants with children, connecting residents with employment services and working together with outside service providers who may be helping with substance abuse counseling or providing senior services like Meals on Wheels.

As previously reported on The Sentinel, the development would include 11 one-bedroom units, 24 tw0-bedroom units, and 12 three-bedroom units, ranging from 622-square-feet to 1,050-square-feet in size. The proposed site plan features two main apartment buildings, a total of 99 parking spaces primarily along the exterior perimeter, a small dog park, an outdoor barbecue and play structure in the middle, and a half-court for basketball.

Additional questions and answers about the proposal are included below:

Is this a homeless shelter?
TLCS Executive Director Erin Johansen has described the proposal as a “permanent affordable housing project” and said “It’s not a shelter; it is a forever home for the individual or the family members that live there.”

What’s the difference between this and transitional housing?
Johansen said transitional housing will typically have a set period of time, like up to two years, before the resident has to move on or move up to something else. She said Sunrise Pointe would not be transitional, and residents could stay “as long as they want,” if they follow the rules.

Will there be rules enforced at the complex?
Johansen said rules would be enforced and tenants could be evicted if found to be dealing drugs or bringing in people who are not on their lease. But she said behavior like drinking inside a resident’s home would not be enforced. “We’re not enforcing rules inside a person’s home.”

Does TLCS operate any other similar housing facilities in the area?
The organization says it operates six other supportive housing facilities in the Sacramento region. A Jamboree spokeswoman also confirmed during the public hearing that they are a minority partner with Arborelle apartments in Citrus Heights.

What steps have been taken to ensure privacy for neighbors?
According to the developer, privacy will be protected through all buildings having a significant 60-plus-foot setback from the property line, an 8-foot wall surrounding the site near homes, trees planted along the perimeter, and 3-story portions of the development located further away from adjacent residential properties.

What income requirements would there be for future tenants?
Johansen said residents are required to contribute 30 percent of their income to rent and must income-qualify by earning no more than 45 percent of the median income of the area.

Who owns the property?
Cal Abel, whose family operated the former Abel’s Christmas Tree lot at the site for many years, still owns the property. However, Jamboree has obtained “site control,” which enables them to proceed with initial planning stages and seek funding. If plans are approved, TLCS says the site would then be purchased.