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Title 17 Update

Tuolumne County Title 17 update from TCBC, Ron Koph to Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors

Dear Supervisors:

Our TCBC Board and membership appreciate the County efforts to update Title 17 to comply with updates made to the County General Plan that was approved at the end of 2019. Finding ways to streamline and simplify the development process, for much-needed housing and other beneficial uses, is critical to addressing the long-term vitality of our community. Based on our review of the initial draft of Title 17, discussions and meetings, we feel that there are many improvements. We have asked our Executive Director, Ron Kopf to provide specific comments into the posted Title 17 draft document. Outlined below are additional comments related to several of the Title 17 components. These comments are as follows:

Density Bonus and Affordable housing
There is a lot of text in Title 17 devoted to State requirements/conditions/etc., trying to address a Density Bonus and related affordable housing conditions and benefits. Our concern is that Title 17 is trying to address a housing density problem with a complex matrix solution that does not work and adds cost to other needed infill housing development we are trying to support. We are not aware of any developed project in Tuolumne County that has been able to achieve a Density Bonus and most struggle to achieve even half the allowed density. A much simpler solution would be to allow/provide design alternatives (now designated as “incentives” in a voluntary Inclusionary Ordinance program – see attached Exhibit A – Category A, B, and C below) that would enable infill projects and projects with a PUD or Mixed Used designation to achieve a density closer to what their approved General Plan and Zoning designations already allow. If the infill project is somehow able to achieve a “Density Bonus” over the allowed density, it would then be reasonable to require some percentage of the ADDITIONAL density to be developed as affordable housing (maybe 40% to 50%). If a developer does meet the criteria to provide some affordable housing there should also be some flexibility on how to address it? For example, alternatives could include a donation of a viable land parcel or finished lot(s)? This could provide options for a local benefit group or nonprofit that has more experience in addressing affordable housing to have ownership of shovel-ready or near shovel-ready land for grant or low-interest loan funding and development.

If a housing project cannot achieve any density over the allowed density, then no affordable housing or related mitigation should be required regardless of the “incentives” applied. If incentives are going to be included, they should be worked out to provide significant benefits and enable the affordable component of a project to be revenue-neutral. This could include additional fee waivers, capital contributions, mitigation offsets, etc. Conversely, requiring an infill project that cannot achieve its allowed density to build affordable housing, just adds cost to the other homes that the infill project is trying to develop as affordable as possible.

Research of adopted Inclusionary Ordinances in California show that a density bonus is the main incentive for Inclusionary Ordinances and is applied to develop additional units and offset the cost of the affordable units. It should be noted that only about 25% of the counties in California have Inclusionary Ordinances and almost all are urban areas that have markets that support multistory housing projects. Unfortunately, a density bonus (or the allowed density) is very hard to achieve in Tuolumne County with our hilly topography, environmental constraints, oak mitigation, availability of adequate infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, etc) arbitrary open space requirements and other required mitigations. Most Low Density Residential (LDR) designated parcels (6du/ac) have only been developed at 3 du/ac or less. LDR is the largest residential land designation in the County. The only developed project that was developed close to 6 du/ac was Sierra Meadows. That small lot project had very little (if any) open space requirements, reduced lot sizes, reduced front and rear setbacks, no side yard Public Utility Easements (PUEs) on lots, “hammerhead” turn arounds at the end of short cul-de-sacs instead of turning bulbs and reduced road cross-sections. In that many of the “incentives” now applied to the Inclusionary Ordinance are needed to simply achieve some portion of the “allowed density” on a parcel, we should allow them to be used without adding “voluntary” affordable mitigation requirements (10% or more affordable housing)?

Affordable housing can only be reasonably developed by nonprofit developers, with a great deal of taxpayer assistance, in the form of grants and low-interest loans. The County has recently contributed a $500,000.00 dollar grant to Visionary Homes to build affordable housing at Cabezut and Greenly Roads. The net result is that nonprofit developers then build the “affordable housing” at a very high per square foot cost, to then rent or sell it at a moderate, low or very low market rate. In that the nonprofits cannot build affordable housing communities without a great deal of financial assistance and a true “density bonus” is not realistically achievable in Tuolumne County, why then do we restrict needed design parameters unless we impose “voluntary” affordable housing requirements and related costs, on the private sector infill projects, and expect the project can be built?

With such a small percentage of developable property in Tuolumne County and a large amount of State and Federal lands that will not be developed, we should be working together to enable land zoned for development to achieve a reasonable density and more efficient utilization of the land. All housing types help affordable housing by providing more housing and move-up housing possibilities. In that Title 17 address much of the Inclusionary Ordinance is addressed in Title 17, is it necessary to retain an Inclusionary Ordinance in Tuolumne County? If we are going to keep the Inclusionary Ordinance then we request that the fee reduction, that is scheduled to sunset in January 2022, be extended to help identify needed infill development and projects with mixed-use or PUD designations.

Open Space Designations and Setbacks
Open space should be required to protect environmentally sensitive areas and cultural resources. There should not be a need to impose additional arbitrary open space requirements or additional setbacks from required open space. Title 17 should establish different open space levels, with reasonable related conditions, for a proposed project. These levels could include Open Space (most restrictive), Open Area, Landscaped area, Parks and Recreation, setback, etc. Requiring arbitrary amounts of Open Space (20% open space has been the fallback amount required by the County for many years with the Wildlife Handbook) in excess of what is needed to protect environmentally sensitive areas or cultural resources, increases the inefficient use of the small amount of desirable infill land we have left and increases the overall cost of the neighborhood lots and homes we need and are trying to encourage.

The draft Title 17 stipulates a 75’ setback from the centerline of drainages which equates to 150’ total open space easement for the drainage. Some drainages (streams/creeks/etc) may warrant this setback but there are many minor drainages or drainages with smaller defined bed and bank conditions that do not warrant a 150’ wide corridor and that would greatly impact the efficient use of a parcel. In addition, Title 17 then stipulates that there should be a 200’ setback from open space. This would equate to a 550’ wide corridor for what could be a minor drainage. Department of Fish and Wildlife has no additional setback requirement outside of the area needing the protection of an open space designation and the county has also approved no additional setback or a minor 25’ setbacks from the edge of the defined open space in the past. These portions of Title 17 should be reasonable and amended to allow flexibility based on site conditions.

Lot Sizes
Title 17 should not be requiring a 7,500 sq ft minimum lot size in R-1 if we want to encourage infill development. On R-1 (LDR GP designation) it has been noted that 7,500 x 6 du/ac allowed in LDR is not mathematically possible. We suggest amending this to allow minimum sized lots that are approximately 50’ x100’ totaling 5,000 sq ft because with site constraints, in our rural area, there will almost always be a range of lots and allowing some smaller lots makes sense. There are many examples of desirable neighborhoods with this lot size. This may even want to be reduced further to address challenging site constraints, allow lot clustering and provide increased common open area (not restricted open space). As noted above this should not automatically require the additional restrictions of the Inclusionary Ordinance unless it actually results in a Density Bonus. A similar approach should be utilized in MDR and HDR as well.

Other Title 17 Issues

  1. Site Development Permits for multifamily development that are found to be in conformance with State Requirements, General Plan and Zoning designation, Ordinance Codes and Community Plans (if applicable) should then be subject to a ministerial approval. Requiring a discretionary approval of a multifamily site development permit adds unnecessary cost, time and risk to a project that has met all applicable State and County Requirements.
  2. Multifamily and Commercial designations should also include apartments as allowed uses.
  3. Mixed-Use and Planned Unit Development designations should be streamlined and simplified as much as possible and allow flexibility for desirable development with a mix of desired housing and a range of other uses. Design criteria (should not be called incentives) should be amended to help achieve allowed density and help
    offset the increased development costs of infill development. As noted above if increased density is achieved over and above the allowed density then some percentage of the additional homes can be designated as affordable. Depending on a number of factors and site conditions, simply enabling a higher percentage of the
    allowed density does not necessarily provide tangible cost savings but may mean the difference between a project that cannot be financed and developed and one that can provide more needed housing that is affordable.
  4. When affordable housing is provided, the County currently waives building permit fees but should also consider waiving traffic mitigation fees and GIGER fees and oak mitigation fees. This should also apply to ADUs that the County has noted are a viable short-term housing solution and are trying to encourage. ADUs also need to include, additional support. With current construction costs and fees, it is difficult to build a 1,200 sq ft ADU, finance with 20% down and rent at a price that is affordable to many in Tuolumne County.
  5. Lot Line Adjustments (LLA) are often time-consuming and expensive to adjust in our county when we have adjacent parcels with different GP or Zoning designations. Title 17 notes that this process should be simplified and we encourage the County to develop and incorporate a simplified solution with Title 17.
  6. Title 17 should allow reduced front porch setback as long as the garage meets the setback for car parking in the driveway.
  7. What role is the outdated Wildlife Handbook fulfilling to still be referenced in the updated General Plan? When using the Wildlife Handbook there is a designated 20% percentage of open space required. The Wildlife Handbook should be retired or at a minimum open space should be required to protect environmentally sensitive or cultural resource areas and not as an arbitrary defined percentage.
  8. In the Title 17 introduction, it was noted that Cultural Resources and native oak tree protection would not been included. When will those issues be addressed? Should live oaks be treated the same as blue oaks and Heritage Live oaks? Climate change is increasing the range of oaks and hardwoods up the hill into what was typically
    been pine forest. A county staff study during the BRRG discussions overlaid all developable parcels on the designated oak woodland areas and showed that if all were removed it would impact less than 10% of the oak woodlands in the county. Should the current oak mitigation requirements and mitigation be amended?
  9. Title 17 requires a minimum number of lots per acre depending on the land use designation. There should be some flexibility to accommodate site conditions and other factors that may adversely impact the ability to achieve the minimum overall density. As noted above, reducing the minimum lot size would be desirable to help
    achieve a minimum number of lots per acre on difficult sites.
  10. Cal Fire regulations stipulate a local road should have two 10’ wide travel lanes. The County has road width requirements that are in excess of that road width and adds shoulders, curb and gutter and sidewalk requirements. We encourage the County to allow road standard flexibility, to help projects address density issues, while still considering parking requirements and fire safe conditions.
  11. Title 17 has a condition that restricts introducing public services like water and sewer into Agricultural areas. TUD and other water agencies often have a need or desire to cross AG to provide redundancy or loop water delivery. Some ag areas may also be in locations with low ground water availability and could benefit from a potable water supply. This should have some flexibility.
  12. What was the criteria that supported the requirement that housing neighborhoods with five or more units should provide onsite recreation? Regional recreation is preferred over small scattered recreation areas that are hard to maintain and insure for small neighborhoods and homeowners typically address on their own lot.

Our TCAR (and TCBC) Board and membership appreciate the opportunity to comment on the County draft of Title 17 and look forward to the next version that addresses the issues we have outlined above. If any questions or comments, we would be glad to have representatives meet and discuss in more detail.

Tuolumne County Business Council Executive Board Members
Michelle Fuentes
Jeff Kerns
Tom Keshishian
Dana Mayo
Justin Meyers
Tom Nankival
Tyler Newton
John Salkowski
Mark Steichen
Malaina Taylor
Sam Wheeler