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Planning Commission approves farmworker housing

Panel debates details of project

An architectural rendering of Mercy Housing and ALAS's proposal for a 40-unit building to house senior farmworker. Rendering courtesy Van Meter Williams Pollack

In a series of late-night votes, the Half Moon Bay Planning Commission approved the application to build a 40-unit housing development for senior farmworkers at 555 Kelly Ave.

The action comes after three commission meetings over the past month to solicit public input and consider details of the proposed structure. In advance of last night’s meeting, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Housing and Community Development issued statements threatening legal action if the city did not move forward with the housing plan.

The panel first voted 4 to 0, with commissioner Hazel Joanes abstaining, to approve an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act that is necessary for the development.

A subsequent 5 to 0 vote established that the commission had completed and approved architectural review of the building. The commissioners discussed many of the details of the architectural plans including concessions from the developer, Mercy Housing, to reduce the height of the building and reconsider the ratio of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

Commissioner Rick Hernandez recommended that the architects review their plans and include design elements that can mask the height and bulk of the structure and make it seem more consistent with other buildings in Half Moon Bay. The panel also asked that a mural on the new building pass through the city’s established mural review process.

Finally, around midnight, the panel voted 4 to 0, with Joanes abstaining, to approve a coastal development permit to allow the project to move forward. The motion included a series of recommendations for city council to consider as part of the development, including issues of parking and traffic safety in the area.

An additional motion by Commissioner Gorn added an advisory statement to city council to consider an additional set of details for the project and also look at an earlier agreement with Mercy and conform the building to those plans.

Commissioner Steve Ruddock was the lone vote against the motion after stating that he did not think the commission’s role includes telling council to revisit the entire project as suggested in the wording of the motion. “If they want to do that, they would be well able to do so without the Planning Commission’s input.”

Ruddock’s comments came after the commission discussed various conditions, including Joanes’ proposal that at least 10% of construction workers be local residents, that all hallways in the facility have safety rails and that each unit include a walk-in shower.

According to the city’s website, the Planning Commission’s role is to assure “that new development is consistent with our zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance, long-range general plan and local coastal plan, state laws and other public policies that advance the interests of our community.”

During the discussion commissioners inquired about the food that would be cooked in a kitchen adjacent to ALAS offices occupying the ground floor of the building. They raised questions about the necessity of the space given that each unit has a private kitchen.

“I’m wondering whether the kitchen is absolutely necessary or can you take them somewhere out of the complex?” Joanes asked Belinda Hernandez Arriaga, director of ALAS. Joanes suggested the possibility of using kitchens at the I.D.E.S. hall and the Portuguese Cultural Center. “It’s a nice walk, getting the exercise to these areas,” she said.

Hernandez Arriaga explained that it would be important for the community to be able to gather and cook healthy meals together in their own home.

This story has been updated to reflect all four votes taken by the commission.

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