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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 wants to build dormitory-style apartments, Aug. 28, 2018.
Andrew Bowen
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
Parking Mandates Threaten To Derail Dorm-Style Apartments Near SDSU GUEST: Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh new goals are bumping up against old standards at San Diego city hall and a proposed student housing project is caught right in the middle. The goals in question are in the city's climate action plan which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of cars on the road. Advocates are urging more high density housing within walking distance of transit. That's just what the proposed development in the college district provides. But city staff is giving a thumbs down to the project precisely because it does not provide enough parking. Joining me is PBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen and Andrew welcome thank you. Hi. What kind of a housing project is this and where is it located. It's essentially a private off campus dormitory so it's a 128 one bedroom apartments with private bathrooms a small sink and a fridge and a shared kitchen and some shared communal space like a lounge on each floor on a rooftop deck and it's currently right now a vacant lot. On Montezuma's so it's not displacing any other sort of development southeast of campus and it's right next to some other student oriented apartments and right across the street from an sdf new parking garage. So how close is it to DSU and to public transit in the area. It's less than a half a mile to campus also less than a half a mile to the DSU trolley and bus station that serves a lot of different routes. So it's exactly where numerous city planning documents say high density housing should go. You say there's S.G. is huge student parking right across the street. How many parking units would be in this new development. So there will be three levels of underground parking that would provide 57 spaces so that's not quite one parking spot for every two tenants of the building. The developer says as part of a transportation demand management program he would be charging students separately for a parking space. This is called unbundled parking where you pay your rent and then you pay a separate fee for parking space and he would require that if a tenant has a car they must either rent and onsite parking space or buy an asset yes you parking pass and that's the aim of that is to really reduce the demand for on street parking and also car ownership. OK so getting back to what these city staffers are looking at what's the standard that the city uses to determine how much parking development should have. The city has various parking formulas for different land uses and they can get pretty complicated. It depends on where the development is of course is it apartments versus a detached home subsidized or market rate proximity to other amenities like grocery stores or retail and the city formula says that this project should have seventy eight parking spaces so its 21 parking space is short. The developer says that number is simply infeasible economically. Parking spaces a very costly amenity to build especially when they have to go underground it involves engineering and grading and things like that. And of course that cost is added to the rent that the developers or the landowners charge the tenants which is part of why rent is so expensive in San Diego. Also given the proximity to the parking garage across the street to the transit center to campus he says the fact is that many students won't have cars and this extra parking is simply unnecessary so he's taking kind of a gamble and saying you know the city staff maybe disagree with me on this but I'm going to take my case to the city council so the developers LC partners are the developers of this project. They've built student housing in other cities. What have they found out about the way students use transportation. He says the fact is that students simply want to be able to walk to campus to their classes and fewer. It's true that fewer people young people nowadays are getting driver's licenses. Many young people are riding those electric scooters we see around San Diego or bikes. Younger people simply want to live a multi-modal lifestyle. That's not to say we'll never drive or they'll never get in a car but perhaps instead of owning a car they'll drive a shared car or perhaps they'll just take Uber and Lyft around or they'll be driven around by a self driving car so personal car ownership and needing a parking space to store that car hardware is just going to sit completely unused 95 percent of the time doesn't appear to be the future of mobility or the world that this younger generation wants to live in. Now the number of parking spaces that's an issue for this development is also an issue for a lot of other developments and it's apparently slowing down the city's efforts to build more high density housing. When is the city going to review the requirement for parking spaces in new construction. So last year Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled a package of reforms called housing Asadi and it's aimed at making housing more affordable in San Diego. Part of that included a new parking standard for so-called transit priority areas or areas within a half mile of a major transit hub. It's unclear what that proposal or that revamp of the parking standards will look like. Some advocates say there's simply no need for the government to prescribe how many parking spaces should be there. We can leave it up to the free market and that developers know full well how much demand there is for park in any given area. The original timeline for bringing this proposal to the city council was winter 2018 a mayoral spokesman told me that early next year is more likely. I've been speaking with KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen and Andrew thanks. Thanks Maureen.

Parking Mandates Threaten To Derail Dorm-Style Apartments Near SDSU
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.

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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

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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.

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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.