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Parking Mandates Threaten To Derail Dorm-Style Apartments Near SDSU

A plant is seen in the foreground of a vacant lot near SDSU where a developer...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: A plant is seen in the foreground of a vacant lot near SDSU where a developer wants to build dormitory-style apartments, Aug. 28, 2018.

Parking Mandates Threaten To Derail Dorm-Style Apartments Near SDSU

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Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

A proposal to build 128 dormitory-style apartments near SDSU is facing opposition from city staffers, who say city code requires it to offer more parking spaces.

San Diego city staffers are recommending the rejection of a proposed dormitory-style development located across the street from a San Diego State University parking garage and less than a half-mile from the university's bus and trolley station because the project does not have enough parking spaces.

The property on Montezuma Road is currently a 12,600-square-foot vacant lot zoned for up to 22 homes. The project applicant, Kansas-based Elsey Partners, wants to build 128 private bedrooms on the property with shared kitchens, lounge suites and a rooftop sun deck.

The project needs approval from the City Council to proceed with construction and is scheduled for an advisory hearing at the city's Planning Commission on Thursday.

The project is, in theory, exactly the kind of housing economists, environmentalists and city leaders say is necessary to meet San Diego's Climate Action Plan goals and to put downward pressure on skyrocketing housing costs. The climate plan calls for dramatically reducing the city's dependence on cars by permitting more high-density housing within walking distance of transit.

Three levels of underground parking in the project would provide 57 spaces for cars. City code, however, would typically require the project to have 78 off-street parking spaces.

RELATED: Housing Costs Crush California's Low-Income College Students

Elsey Partners has completed similar high-density housing projects near universities in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Owner Chris Elsey said city development codes often measure density by the number of apartments in a project regardless of their size, so developers typically build units with more bedrooms to fit more rent-paying students into their projects.

But such group living situations can be challenging and unstable, Elsey said, and his design would give students more privacy than a shared apartment or house while still providing communal gathering space on each floor.

"The objective of the project is to try to create a more affordable one-bedroom living arrangement that's within walking distance to the university," he said. "Hopefully those needs of the community will kind of outweigh the concerns that the (Development Services Department) staff has brought up."

Elsey added that he understood city staffers were simply trying to apply development rules consistently. He said his transportation demand management plan would require tenants with cars to either rent an on-site parking space or purchase a campus parking permit.

RELATED: San Diego City Council To Vote On Middle-Income Housing 'Bonus'

Rent for the 200-square foot rooms would be around $998 per month, Elsey said — well below the $1,483 average rent for a studio apartment in San Diego, according to the apartment listing website RENTCafe.

The dearth of affordable student housing near SDSU prompted some College Area property owners to convert single-family homes into so-called "mini-dorms," putting up extra walls to create new bedrooms. That practice led to complaints of noisy student parties in quiet neighborhoods, so the City Council attempted to ban them — but the ordinance was thrown out by a judge last year.

Jose Reynoso, chairman of the College Area Community Planning Board, said the failure of the mini-dorm crackdown has been on residents' minds, and that many are realizing the problem can only be solved with more housing near campus.

"There's a tremendous unmet demand for student housing immediately adjacent to San Diego State," he said. "It's not that SDSU has any more students than in the past. It's that more and more students want to live close to campus."

The planning board, a volunteer group of residents and business owners that advises the city on development issues, voted to support the project with a handful of conditions, including limiting access to the rooftop deck to daylight hours.

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Colin Parent, executive director of the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, said his organization could not officially endorse the project unless it went through a formal certification process. But he said parking minimums are not a good reason for the city to hold up approval of the project.

"It seems to be pretty unfortunate that the city of San Diego is trying to deny the project on the basis of not having enough parking when all the city's other planning documents like the City of Villages (General Plan) and the Climate Action Plan contemplate more of this kind of development, especially near transit," he said. "Good political leadership should rise above the vagaries of the code."

Mayor Kevin Faulconer last year unveiled a package of proposals called "Housing SD" that aims to improve housing affordability in the city, and one proposal was to change the minimum parking standards for newly built homes within a half-mile of bus and trolley stops.

Parking requirements can limit the number of homes developers can build on a particular site, contributing to the region's acute housing shortage that most economists say is at fault for high housing costs. The mayor's original timeline for bringing the parking plan to the City Council was winter 2018.

Mayoral spokesman Greg Block said the parking standards overhaul did not yet have a hearing date at the City Council, but that it would likely come up for a vote early next year.

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