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Half Moon Bay planning commission reluctantly OKs senior farmworker housing — with conditions

POSTED ON MAY 15, 2024

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By Yosi Yahoudai

Founder and Managing Partner

Trailers are seen from this drone view at California Terra Gardens in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Farm worker Chunli Zhao, 66, was booked on seven counts of murder after the Jan. 23 mass shooting. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

After airing their concerns over height, traffic and design over several hours in a meeting that extended past midnight, Half Moon Bay planning commissioners approved modified plans for a 40-units apartment complex for senior farmworkers in downtown.

The commissioners were under pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who last week said he’d threaten legal action if the city continued to delay the project at 555 Kelly Avenue. This was the commission’s third hearing on the project.

Farmworkers and Latinos in Half Moon Bay rallied behind the proposed apartments, saying that housing for older farmworkers is desperately needed, especially after last year’s deadly shooting pulled back a curtain on farmworkers’ desperate living conditions.

Plans for the project predate the shooting — it was first proposed as a four-story building in 2022 by nonprofit developer Mercy Housing and ALAS, a nonprofit supporting Latinos in Half Moon Bay.

But after meetings with farmworker advocates and city staff earlier this year, Mercy Housing swapped out some of the studios for larger one- and two-bedroom units. That pushed the building up another story — a move that ended up being one of the primary concerns of planning commissioners.

Nonprofit developer Mercy Housing is applying to build a 40-unit, 100% affordable housing development at 555 Kelly Avenue to house Half Moon Bay farmworkers, but it’s facing anti-development sentiment from neighbors in the coastal city.

The commission approved the project, sending it to the City Council, which will must give the final OK. But they recommended that the City Council revert to the original project — with 31 studios and 9 one-bedroom units — and consider removing some of the community space and offices on the first floor, as well as some of the parking, which led to the building’s taller height.

Throughout the meeting, commissioners expressed frustration with the state’s density bonus law, which allowed the developer to propose a building taller than typically allowed by Half Moon Bay local zoning because every unit would be considered affordable to low-income households.

“It is a sledgehammer to local control,” said Commissioner Rick Hernandez.

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