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Planning Commission Approves Farmer Housing In Half Moon Bay

555 Kelly Avenue pedestrian view, rendering by Van Meter Williams Pollack


BY: ANDREW NELSON 5:30 AM ON MAY 16, 2024


The Half Moon Bay Planning Commission has approved plans for a five-story affordable housing project at 555 Kelly Avenue in the heart of the coastal San Mateo County city. However, this approval was not simple, as several commissioners voiced strong disapproval of the project and vocalized potential conditions of approval that would contravene state law. The decision is appealable, and the project awaits final approval from the City Council.


Mercy Housing is the project developer, working alongside local non-profit Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, or ALAS. The team has described their project as providing “much-needed housing and support services to members of the local senior and farm working community.” Along with 40 units, the five-story complex will expand ALAS’s footprint in the heart of the agricultural community, include with a permanent Farmworker Resource Center and community room equipped with a commercial kitchen to assist the food outreach work by ALAS.


According to project plans published in early April, the 40-unit mix will include six studios, 26 one-bedrooms, and eight two-bedrooms. Parking will be included for 46 cars with reconfiguring the Ted Adcock Community Center parking lot and an on-site garage. Mercy Housing has indicated that two of the two-bedroom units might be downsized due to pressure from the Planning Commission. Van Meter Williams Pollack is the project architect, with Jett working as the landscape architect. The facade will be clad primarily with fiber cement for lap siding, board and batten paneling, and faux shingles.


News of the delay by the city’s Planning Commission during the April 30th meeting reverberated across the state, including direct condemnation by Governor Gavin Newsom. California Department of Housing & Community Development published a letter directed to the City of Half Moon Bay highlighting their legal obligations for the 100% affordable proposal, including that “subjective standards, such as how the project contributes to the ‘character’ of the neighborhood or city, cannot be the basis for disapproving, reducing density, or rendering infeasible a housing development project under the Housing Accountability Act (HAA).”


Like every city in the state, Half Moon Bay is subject to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. The Association of Bay Area Governments established that the city needs to approve 480 new homes by 2031, of which 285 need to be for lower-income households. HCD reminded the city that plans for 555 Kelly Avenue are a substantial part of the city’s Housing Element, representing 14% of the city’s total lower-income RHNA obligations.


HCD explains that state law provides a five-hearing limit to any project after the review process of objective standards has been deemed complete. After this Tuesday’s meeting, the city has held three such meetings, and any meeting to discuss an appeal of the project will count toward the five-hearing limit. Concluding the letter, HCD highlights that “a project that meets the eligibility requirements of the State Density Bonus Law is entitled to a density bonus, concessions, development standard waivers, and reduced parking ratios.” Without substantial evidence that the waivers are unlawful or unnecessary to increase density, the city must give approval.


During this meeting, commissioners quibbled on building height, concerns around parking while disregarding public transit, attempting to reduce unit sizes, and an odd fixation on the commercial kitchen, just to give a broad overview of how most commissioners attempted to adjust the project to a form the developer said would be financially unfeasible. One commission even claimed the structure would be the biggest in the city, a figure that will comfortably still be held by the five-story Ritz Carlton hotel.


Yesterday’s reporting by J.K. Dineen for the San Francisco Chronicle provides a brief summary of the exhaustive list of the various criticisms leveled by Commissioners Hazel Joanes, Rick Hernandez, Dave Gorn, and ​​Margaret Gosset, with a more supportive voice coming from Commissioner Steve Ruddock. For an even more exhaustive summary of the meeting, Jordan Grimes of the non-profit Peninsula For Everyone live-tweeted from the meeting Tuesday evening, which lasted from 7 PM to midnight.


The 0.38-acre parcel is a few blocks from Main Street along Kelly Avenue, next to the Ted Adcock Community Center and the Saturday market run by the farmer-owned Coastside Farmers’ Markets.


The project has already secured $5.2 million in state and local funding. If the project is approved by this summer, Mercy and ALAS plan to seek low-income housing tax credits and start construction in 2025. If the summer deadline is missed, construction will likely be delayed until 2026.



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